Did you watch Blue Planet Two? It was a truly magnificent series, assuming you too were one of the 17+ million viewers, wouldn’t you agree? Educational and informative of course, but alongside the nurturing tones of Sir David Attenborough’s poignant narration, your heart too raced watching the mysterious Bobbitt Worm; you willed the Puffins on from the safety of your sofa, shared the joy of playful, intelligent Dolphins, and, I hope, shared that same sense of pain of our suffering ocean. Your core too was twinged with sadness at those concluding words: ‘Good Luck, little Leatherback’.
It is exactly this which brings me to write these words. As the final episode aired I was 7,000 privileged miles away on the shores of the Philippine Islands. Between the outrageously curated, poised and posed beach-life photos, there was my own stark confrontation with this oceanic reality….
On our first night there, an American Philippine resident said to me, ‘living in New York I was fine, like, whatever, I do a bit of recycling, and now I’m confronted by my life choices every-day’. I could have written those words myself. I live in a home with carbon neutral heating, I recycle, I reduce meat consumption, but there was something about absolute confrontation of the issue to make it really pull at the fibres of your conscience.
Do I really need a sauce sachet for my chips or a plastic jam pot for toast when that decision will live on the planet for the 500 or so years? A straw? A plastic take-out tub?
The Philippines are a magnificent and wonderful country and I’d highly recommend them, the following words are not to discourage and it feels so important to say that. This is simply sharing a planetary crisis from a location that happened to bring it home to me. But this issue is Global. And it is here.
The state of many corals off the Philippine Islands is heart-breaking. I’m told a year ago that global warming saw the sea’s temperature reach 34oC in places and vast areas were bleached beyond repair. Wildlife numbers are substantially lower than other tropical corals I’ve seen. The damage from tourist boats throwing their anchors at random is apparent in huge sections of shattered, white debris. Responsible, ecological tourism is essential and isn’t well established. There, tourist education of respect for the natural habitat included only advice to wear thick soled shoes to avoid cutting feat on sharp under-sea edges. It should have said that under no circumstances should you touch, disturb, damage or stand on any area of living coral.
I carried yogurt pots and other plastic debris in the straps of my bra back to boats as they tickled past my submerged limbs whilst swimming, and I took away bags of litter from beaches. A #2minbeachclean saw 16 pieces of litter collected on what you could easily perceive to have been a pristine beach.
You frequently see plastic litter bobbing along the surface of the water, and spilling into the ocean from poor sanitation and channels. I can’t condemn that, some people have so very little, but it serves as a reminder to our conscience. Especially from the safety of our often more privileged worlds. Education is essential and our acts as both responsible tourists, and as part of the problem from our own homes, play a huge role.
Seeing the vast machine-like trawlers which comb the ocean, plucking arbitrarily from a sensitive eco-system, tossing aside catch which does not meet quotas, makes you question sustainability.
– Our oceans aren’t as clean as they look –
Tourist Tours seeking photo opportunities and in so doing, feeding fish and even whale sharks for the best selfies, help you question your choices. These are done so in an unregulated, over-crowded way, showing disregard for ecological balance and nutritional welfare of a world which isn’t ours.
The Philippines are trying measures to control their plastic use. Litter-bed islands post signs asking for cooperation on government policies to reduce plastics; El Nido (a town on Palawan Island) has its own plastic-free policy in place from December this year and even McDonalds post signs asking not to take a straw unless it is ‘absolutely necessary’. Perhaps it’s time we took heed.
Regrettably the Blue Planet negated to use its impressive platform to encourage policy change from the 90-mega-companies responsible for 60% of all man made carbon emissions. Whilst lobbying and public pressure for big policy change is something essential that we all should become involved in, Attenborough’s’ words did pose one question directly to us – What can we, as individuals, do to save our Blue Planet?
With plastics pollution so prevalent in today’s news, and brands like Iceland announcing they will be the first to become entirely plastic-free, have you stopped to consider how your consumer choices may be affecting the welfare of our planet? Are you hoping to do anything to reduce your use of plastics? We’d love to see suggestions in the comments box below.