CZMAI Wants to Find Out!
Marine debris can be found in any ocean of the world, along coastlines, beaches, rivers and other waterways. It is a growing problem for both humans and marine life, around the world and right here in Belize. Scientists have estimated that there are over five trillion pieces of plastic marine debris alone. Just a little over one-hundred years after being first invented, plastic is the most common marine litter and a recent study showed that same result for Belize. But the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute wants to learn much more about trash in our waterways. As a follow up to the launch of the litter campaign with primary schools a few months ago, the CZMAI is now training its partners in how to gather more data and better analyze the garbage found along the coast. News Five’s Andrea Polanco finds out about the importance of the “Standardization of Methodology for Marine Litter Sampling.”
Andrea Polanco, Reporting
Marine litter has long been a problem in Belize. Trash that is either deliberately or accidentally discarded often times finds its way into our waterways. The man-made waste is not just an eye-sore but has public health implications, and is a serious environmental hazard. But just how big is marine debris problem in Belize? According to Victor Sho, the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute did a sampling at nine sites along the coast earlier this year – and the findings were concerning.
Victor Sho, Sport Fishing Coordinator, CZMAI
“We do have a litter issue. We have about twenty-six point three five items per meter square of Belizean beaches. And the biggest issue is that of plastics. About eighty-five percent of all litter we sampled were plastics. So, that is a huge percentile difference in comparison to the second highest which was metals and that was at five percent. So you can just imagine how much plastics we have on our beach and this is just a small reflection of how versatile and durable plastics are. The plastics are the most frequent and have the highest possibility of killing because fish mistake them for prey, some of the predators choke on them, they destroy the habitat if you have large fragments of litter getting away such as large seine nets, or ship-wrecks, once they hit coral reefs or any type of marine habitat they destroy the environment if it persists.”
And that is why the Coastal Zone is hosting a workshop to train partners, including Scouts Association of Belize and Oceana, on how to use a standardized methodology to quantify and determine the origin of litter found along the coastline. It is just another step to take during a beach clean-up activity.
“You run a trans deck starting at the water line to the end of the beach. It has to be perpendicular to the beach and then you identify the sampling locations. We usually recommend two to six sampling locations – it’s at the water line, the high-tide line, the dry area, the beach and in between the high-tide line. The reason we identified these areas is because it would tell us that if it was more towards the end of the beach the probability that it is coming from a local land base source is high. If it is on the water line or the high-tide line, the probability that it was washed ashore from some unknown distal source is higher. So, it is trying to identify where it is coming from and then when you count the amount of trash within these sampling stations, which are one meter squared, you will also get an idea of how much trash now is coming in. If you say you are getting about twenty items per meter square on the beach that means anytime you go on any beach, you are definitely guaranteed to find twenty items in one meter and that is a lot if you really think about it. Because a meter is just three feet by three feet, so we are also looking at that. And lastly, we are looking at biotic interaction – does the trash has teeth marks on it, does it has algae growing on it or does it have barnacles growing on it? Then that means it would have been in the water for an extended period of time, possibly upward of three months. And that will also help us to determine if the problem is land based or sea based.”
The methodology is easy and simple enough to be used by an eight-year-old, yet it can produce quality findings to be used in management of our marine environment.
“It does make it easier when it comes to quantifying, especially when we are identifying the most frequently encountered litter on our beach or when we are trying to identify drivers behind it or we try to identify sources of the litter on our beaches then this would make it easier to do so. If you do a regular beach cleanup, meaning if you just go out there and take all the litter off the beach and weight it, I am sure you did a good job. But did you really check if this litter was coming from a distal source, meaning if it was coming from another country and because of ocean currents it made it to our beaches? Did you check it maybe it was that flooding event happened upstream and washed it down all the way to the coastline or is it maybe some guys just going to the beach having fun and they leave litter behind? And so that is what we are trying to do, to identify the sources and then quantify it, and the metric we are using is number of items per meter square of beach. We will be able to create bite size data, info graphics, that we can show the general public that, over the x number of years this is what has been on our beach and this is how much we believe the Belizean population is contributing to it and these are steps we can take to reduce it. Also, we can identify other drivers such as lack of trash receptacles. Because you may not want to litter but if you are on a beach and you do produce litter maybe plastic bottles, or containers or bags you brought food in, it will blow away. But if you don’t have a trash receptacle to place it in, what choice are you left with? You might not have any space in your bathing suit to put it. So, it is not only to say, hey, you are doing bad but this is to say we could improve our situation.”