Plastic in Paradise

Although it feels like a lifetime ago now, I’m still looking back at our holiday to Barbados and the unforgettable experiences we had there. But there was one thing that cast a dark cloud over the trip… beach plastic.

Anyone who has visited this blog before will know that I often write about plastic pollution; either the shocking stats or tips to cut back, or experiences on beach cleans and why it’s so important we make a change – globally.

But even if you’re fully aware of the facts, even if you’ve watched documentaries and read books, there’s something totally different about visiting an island – somewhere seen by many as a paradise – and witnessing piles and piles of the stuff.

It’s also pretty disheartening to walk a stretch of beach and decide to pick up every bit of plastic in sight, only to then have full pockets and hands within just a few hundred metres (if that).

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What made me even more sad – and angry – was to realise that the beaches I was walking across, were nesting beaches for leatherback turtles.

Although they’re protected and monitored pretty well in Barbados, there’s always a risk that adult turtles or hatchlings could ingest plastic or get caught up in it as they make their way across the sand.

When it comes to giving hatchlings a fighting chance, the local volunteers, hotel staff, surfers and even tourists seem to be dedicated and alert at all times.

But not once did I see anyone coming by to pick up plastic.

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One of the hatchlings found by staff at our hotel and rescued until it could be released later that night

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The most common items we found were bottle caps, bottles, straws and cups. I imagine a lot of this is actually from the hotel resorts on the beach but, considering the way the tide works in Hastings, the area in which we stayed, it’s also pretty likely that a lot of this rubbish is washing up.

We tried hard to pick up anything we could but to be honest, it really didn’t feel like I was making a dent. It was also slightly worrying that there weren’t any visible recycling facilities so if I picked up a plastic bottle and put it in the bin, although it was removing it from the beach, was it just destined to head to landfill?

Having spotted plastic pollution in the first few days of our holiday, I also started to make a conscious effort to refill our water bottles while we were there. But even this was difficult.

Apart from two jugs on the beach during the day there weren’t many places we could actually refill bottles from. We tried hard to plan ahead and rotate bottles, but we still ended up with 8 plastic bottles at the end of our week.

The hotel also repeatedly gave us plastic straws in drinks. When I realised that a straw was always given unless you asked for it not to be, I started telling staff that I didn’t want this unnecessary bit of plastic every time we ordered. But I was pretty sad to register the shock on one staff member’s face when I did that the first time.

I’m not sure whether it was because she was good at her job and remembers faces, or whether it’s because no one else in the hotel was declining straws, but from that moment on, she never gave me a straw again.

We even had a conversation about it in which she praised myself and my boyfriend for being conscious about the environment. Considering Barbados has such beautiful beaches and is home to turtles – which tourists love – she found it frustrating that there wasn’t more attention on plastic consumption on the island.

But, as she pointed out, many tourists actually complain if they don’t get a straw in their drink so staff have to automatically put one in every time.

I’m sure this wasn’t an issue just restricted to our hotel but it’s a good point, isn’t it?

The majority of tourists at our accommodation were probably from the US or England. Two places where, I believe, there’s a lot of focus on plastic pollution.

So why, when we go away, do we forget it all? Why do we stop thinking consciously about the actions we’re taking and the impact we’re having?

three assorted fruit juice in glasses

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One last thing to give you some food for thought.

While out surfing one day, my instructor found his leg tangled up in a fishing line. At the end of it, was a pretty sharp hook which actually cut him when he was trying to wrap the line up.

I’m not sure how, but he managed to keep hold of it for the rest of the lesson, and we all experienced a team bonding moment when, back on the beach, four of us learner surfers and two instructors tried to untangle and wind up this ridiculously long line.

As humans, that was pretty dangerous. But what if a turtle had got a flipper caught, panicked and become entangled?

I guess my point is that Barbados was beautiful. I had an incredible week and I’d go back in a heartbeat. But what if the next time I go back, the situation is even worse – the plastic on the beach has increased and the number of turtles has decreased?

When we go on holiday, we need to be just as environmentally aware as when we’re at home – possibly more so. And we need to encourage others to do the same. 

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