At first sight the coast looks picture perfect. But a closer look reveals plastic and other debris lurking in the dunes and between rocks. This photo essay shows what I learnt about how plastic waste becomes hidden and the value of beach clean-ups.
The clean-up was organised by the Green Anglicans who arranged for volunteers from Eluvukweni church to travel from Crossroads to Monwabisi beach, in False Bay near Khayelitsha.
We arrived to find several other organisations also interested in bringing about change and environmental conservation. One group was designing a website to change the image of townships by showcasing entrepreneurship in Khayelitsha and the innovative young people who live there. Other groups included Changes and Inkwenkwezi Women Empowerment Program who had also planned a beach clean-up.
Before we started and by way of introduction, each organisation took turns to give a short performance involving singing and dancing.
The final group invited everyone to join in with an exercise routine.
Once kitted out with protective gear but before we started, we were reminded of what had brought us together on this sunny Saturday morning. Rev Rachel Mash (Green Anglicans) asked people to shout out the names of sea creatures. She then explained the problems caused when these animals cannot tell the difference between pieces of plastic and food. More information about what happens when plastic is ingested can be found here.
At first it seemed as though there was only the odd bit of plastic here and there.
But as I looked closer, more and more items become visible. Many had become embedded in the dunes, trapped in-between rocks or enmeshed in seaweed.
Over time, the dunes were gradually subsuming plastic bags and other items
Seaweed had grown around this plastic sucker (lolly pop) stick, attaching it to the rock
Some debris had become micro plastic and were camouflaged by the sand and stones
I mostly found white ‘sucker’ (lolly pop) sticks
There is an ongoing debate about the value of beach clean-ups. Anti-plastic campaigners argue that efforts should be focussed on avoiding plastic completely to stop any more debris from entering the oceans. Others see beach clean-ups as a way to bring people together and raise awareness of environmental issues. From my morning at Monwabisi beach, both positions are valid. Once plastic material enters the natural environment it can be impossible to completely remove.
However, there is a social side to participating in a clean-up that made me experience the beach in a way I would not have done otherwise. Beaches in Cape Town are often portrayed as having economic value because of the tourists that they attract. While this is true, they are also places that are enjoyed for a range of purposes that also make them worth protecting. Although only at the beach for a short time, we saw people fishing, playing, sunbathing, swimming, collecting sand prawns, and participating in religious rituals. It was also nice to meet new people.
Beaches are closed at the moment and my research is on hold due to ongoing restrictions related to corona virus. In the meantime I am continuing to work remotely and reading up on the comparative social, economic and environmental aspects of tackling plastic waste.