Attention to the SMALL things!
Just before Christmas a class of 18 students committed one morning to the opposite of buying: our waste! On December 1st the junior class from Araura College together with a science teacher and myself endeavoured a beach clean-up in the North of Aitutaki. This initiative intended to 1) clean the beach off any man-made debris that was visible, 2) educate the kids about plastic waste and to which extent it can be harmful to the environment and 3) be a fun activity to see who can find the smallest piece of waste. Along a distance of 1.6 km, from the very popular Base One beach towards the Golf Club, the group searched an area of almost 2 hectares over the course of 1 hour. After a few days of sorting and weighing of all individual pieces, findings were surprising:
A total of 1264 pieces of debris were collected (see graph below). Highest percentage of waste in amounts was plastic, followed by glass and aluminium.
The total weight reached 14,12 kg- That is equivalent to a three-year-old child!
118 aluminium cans, 351 pieces of glass, 612 pieces of plastic and 42,4 meters of fishing nylon and other rope, 15 pieces of shoe soles, were collected.
The biggest piece was a large part of metal roofing, the smallest piece of plastic was barely visible and well below the mm scale.
Students learned that the shape, colour and size of the debris can tell us a lot about its origin, age and material. Most of the waste is land-derived and originates from people discarding their waste either on the beach or into the bush where it is washed towards the sea by rain. A surprising amount, however, is seabourne and floating debris, such as plastic can travel thousands of kilometres across the Pacific to eventually end up on Aitutaki’s shores. Some of these plastics were collected by the students and showed origin in French Polynesia, China, Korea and even Peru!
Plastic breaks down very slowly, can therefore be very old and state a serious long-lasting threat to marine animals.
Most impressive was the level of enthusiasm that the kids took on to look for the tiny plastic/glass pieces that lie in the sand. At the end we all searched the smallest piece that we collected and- it is incredible- but many pieces were smaller than 1mm and my caliper did not cover these small size ranges anymore.
“Well done and merry Christmas with a little more attention to the things we throw away- ideally straight into the bin!”