Plastic not so fantastic for Bali’s iconic manta rays

  • Two recent videos from a diving site in Bali known for its manta rays have garnered global attention for highlighting the dire state of plastic pollution in Indonesia’s waters.
  • While the local government and volunteers have made efforts to clean up the garbage, a lack of proper planning and poor awareness of waste disposal means huge volumes of trash continue to be dumped into the ocean daily.
  • Indonesia produces around 130,000 tons of plastic and solid waste every day, and is the second-largest plastic polluter in the world, behind China.

JAKARTA — Two videos of manta rays and other fish swimming through swaths of garbage off the resort island of Bali earlier this year have highlighted once again the plastic waste crisis in Indonesian waters.

In February, Lauren Jubb, an Australian tourist, posted video on Youtube of her swimming at Manta Point, a popular diving site about 20 kilometers (12 miles) off the southeastern coast of Bali. The video showed a lone manta ray floating and feeding among plastic debris.

“I have never been so horrified and heartbroken as I was when I saw the amount of plastic and rubbish in the bay,” she wrote in the description of the video. “These beautiful creatures swimming amongst the mess that we as humans have created. The Manta’s [sic] had plastic bags around their mouths and on their bodies whilst swimming around the rubbish in search for food.”

A few weeks later, on Mar. 3, another short video was posted by British diver Rich Horner showing a similar “horrifying” sight of the same spot, where groups of manta rays typically get cleaned of parasites by smaller fish.

“The ocean currents brought us in a lovely gift of a slick of jellyfish, plankton, leaves, brunches [sic], fronds, sticks, etc.,” he wrote. “Oh, and some plastic. Some plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic cups, plastic sheets, plastic buckets, plastic sachets, plastic straws, plastic baskets, plastic bags, more plastic bags, plastic, plastic, so much plastic!”

Both videos grabbed attention from around the world, and together have been viewed more than 800,000 times.

Bali has for years now been overwhelmed by tides of plastic waste pollution along its beaches and coastline, some of it generated domestically and some brought in by the current. The island lies in the middle of the “Indonesian Throughflow” current that streams from the Pacific Ocean eastward into the Indian Ocean through the string of islands that make up Indonesia.

“We are ALL to blame,” Jubb wrote. “This is a GLOBAL issue and we are ALL affected by it.”

According to Horner, some divers returned to the Manta Point the next day and reported that the slick of garbage was gone, “continuing its journey, off into the Indian Ocean.”

“The plastic I saw mainly had Indonesian labelling but because of the current could be coming from anywhere in Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia [or] beyond,” Horner, a Bali resident, was quoted as saying by the BBC.

Plastic waste doesn’t biodegrade, and instead breaks up physically into tiny particles called microplastics. These pellets are dispersed across the ocean and eaten by fish, thus making their way up the food chain.

Last month, thousands of people carried out a mass cleanup on Bali’s beaches following the declaration of a “garbage emergency” in November. Regular cleanups between November last year and February this year have raked in some 6,000 tons of garbage from the island’s coastline, according to the Bali environmental agency.

Indonesia produces around 130,000 tons of plastic and solid waste every day, and is the second-largest plastic polluter in the world, behind China. Poor government planning and low levels of public awareness about waste disposal and management are among the key factors behind the problem.

The government has pledged to allocate $1 billion a year to achieve its target of slashing marine plastic waste by 70 percent by 2025.

Banner image: Some plastic garbage on Kuta beach, one of the most popular destinations in Indonesia’s Bali island. Photo by Luh De Suriyani/Mongabay-Indonesia.

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This story first appeared on Mongabay

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