A Better World - Volume 6

[ ] 67 Lif e Below Water The problem of plastic pollution is daunting, seemingly intractable, and often overwhelming — plastics are every- where — and despite the rapid rise in its public profile, there is still much about the problem that we do not know, ranging from its impacts to its sources, and ultimately its sustainable solutions. These challenges are felt acutely in remote island communities, such as Lord Howe Island in the Tasman Sea, and Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean, where communities have implemented their own solutions, whether the goal is to reduce plastics used by the communities themselves, like on Lord Howe, or to increase education and highlight the interconnectedness of the global problem, such as on Cocos. Unlike many other pollutants, plastics are not a single type of product or compound, originating from countless sources ranging from diverse heavy industry and commercial opera- tions to households. Their ubiquity is unparalleled, with production increasing exponentially, but they are also easily visible, and a catalyst for community environmental move- ments. Solving the plastic pollution problem will require diverse solutions from diverse communities and stakehold- ers, and will not always be easy, but a sustainable future depends on it. Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Australia The Cocos (Keeling) Islands comprise a low-lying atoll of 26 islands in the Indian Ocean. Characterized by palm trees, turquoise waters, and nearly 30,000 nesting sea turtles, Cocos is the perfect postcard destination for holidaymakers. Recently, Cocos has also become known for the inundation of its beaches with more than 414 million items of plastic debris. It can be imagined that a tour operator on Cocos would take guests to pristine beaches where the beauty of the islands is on display. But, remarkably, that is not always the case, with local tour operators choosing instead to highlight the plastics problem by incorporating the debris into their tour activities. On a kayak adventure tour, guests are taken to a debris accumulation zone where they can participate in a clean-up and engage in conversation about the origin of the debris and what they can do at home to make a difference. Debris items collected by tourists during the clean-up — or during morning beach sunrise walks — can then contribute to community science data such as AMDI as well as be incorporated into hand-made artworks as part of the courses offered by one of the many local artists-in-residence on Cocos. The two activities, debris kayak tour and debris art-making, are enormously popular with tourists and are evidence of islanders responding positively to their site-specific challenges. Image: Kylie James, Cocos Adventure Tours Tourists record community science data on the type of beach-washed fishing nets on the Cocos (Keeling) Islands during a Cocos Adventure Tour