More than 250 Million tons of plastic are estimated to make its way into our oceans by 2025, painting a worrying image of the future. The impact of plastic on the world’s oceans has shocked many and with the worrying statistic that there will be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050, it’s but a wonder as to when and how this statistic can be reversed. Scenes of a hawksbill turtle getting a straw pulled out of its nose, the sea birds feeding their chicks plastic or a washed up whale with over 50 plastic bags found in its stomach, are impossible to unsee. As Governments and international organisations seek new policies and discuss these very issues at Ocean Conferences on the environmental impact of plastic, small Non-Governmental Organisations of the paradisaic small island state of Seychelles are combating the scourge of plastic in community building and innovative ways.
The Ocean Project, the SIDS Youth Aims Hub and the Seychelles Islands Foundation, are three of the many non-governmental organisations at the centre of pioneering projects combating the catastrophic impact of plastics in the Indian Ocean, whilst implementing new ways for the population to live sustainably. In 2017, the result of fervent campaigns by numerous NGOs, saw Seychelles ban plastic bags, cutlery and take away boxes and in 2019 a ban on plastic straws will soon come into place. The monumental efforts for policy change and outreach to encourage sustainable consumer habits have also encouraged actions on the outer islands, of which are out of reach and largely unpopulated but are negatively impacted with coast line plastic pollution. The Island Conservation Society (ICS) and the Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF) are two environmental organisations that manage several of Seychelles’ outer islands and have been carrying out beach clean ups in the areas under their remit. But the work doesn’t stop there!
These efforts, concentrated on changes of consumption on Seychelles’ main islands have also encouraged actions on the outer islands, which are largely inaccessible and unpopulated, but also have plastic accumulating. The Island Conservation Society (ICS) and the Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF) are two environmental organisations that manage several of Seychelles’ outer islands and have been conducting small scale beach cleans on the areas they manage.
The Ocean Project Seychelles (TOP)
In response to the global issues of marine plastic pollution affecting Seychelles, two young women, Zara Pardiwalla and Karine Rassool co-founded The Ocean Project Seychelles (TOP) in November 2016 with a mission to tackle the problem through education, action and research.
Since its establishment the Ocean Project have hosted 41 coastal clean ups, engaged 1200 volunteers and have collected over 8+ tons of rubbish consisting of plastics. This passionate group combine education and action on the plastic pollution issue, of which another goal is to spark positive and lasting changes in consumer habits.
Biggest Beach Clean Up
On the 15th September 2018, to commemorate World CleanUp Day, TOP in collaboration with LWMA and the Seychelles Sustainable Tourism Foundation (SSTF) hosted the “Seychelles’ Biggest Beach Clean Up”, which was the biggest NGO and private sector collaboration in Seychelles and saw the participation of over 700 people, cleaning 27 beaches across 7 islands and collected 3.5+ tons of rubbish (supported by the GEF Small Grants Programme and the Environment Trust Fund).
Beach Clean Ups with an Educational touch
The TOP team carry out clean ups that also promote citizen science, by working with volunteers to sort the rubbish collected into various categories and data is recorded on the type and amount of rubbish collected. The data has already proven useful in informing other TOP projects and has also been shared, with the Department of Environment and the Land Waste Management Agency (LWMA). TOP is looking to focus more on research in the coming years and to undertake a marine littering monitoring programme at fixed locations across Mahe.
The Last Straw Campaign
TOP is also the NGO behind The Last Straw Seychelles; an innovative campaign to reduce the use of plastic straws in Seychelles and the amount of plastic straws ending up in the oceans, through commitments from individuals and venues to stop serving plastic straws. As a result of this campaign many hotel chains in Seychelles have made the switch and are using alternatives such as pasta straws, paper straws and aluminum straws for their clients.
TOP recently purchased the screening rights of the documentary, A Plastic Ocean. Two school screenings were held in 2018 and at least four screenings are scheduled over the next few months, including a screening at the Seychelles Ocean Festival (also supported by the GEF Small Grants Programme). Also in the pipeline is TOP’s Plastic Arts project. TOP has previously collaborated with The Meraki Foundation to create plastic art pieces and will be launching a new project which aims to build and exhibit aesthetically powerful, large-scale, art installations out of plastic debris to educate a national audience about marine plastic pollution and to engage action on the issue (supported by the GEF Small Grants Programme).
SIDS Youth AIMS Hub-Seychelles (SYAH Seychelles)
SIDS Youth AIMS Hub- Seychelles is the Seychelles Chapter of a regional network of young people on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in the Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Sea (AIMS) is a youth led NGO. SYAH Seychelles was founded in 2014 with the aims of promoting and advancing youth-led sustainable development projects, as well as increasing youth participation in decision-making at both national and international level. The overall objective involves a network os regional small island states engaging young people to play an active role in the sustainable development of their countries, on a national, regional and global level. There are many initiatives and projects relating to the 4 Sustainable Development Goals such as, Clean Energy (SDG 7), Climate Change (SDG 13), Life below Water (SDG 14) and Life on Land (SDG 15).
A Seychelles Free Plastic Bags Campaign
A Seychelles Free from Plastic Bags was a campaign launched by the SIDS Youth AIMS Hub – Seychelles in July 2015 to commemorate International Day free from plastic bags. After it was announced, late 2015, by the Ministry of Environment, Energy and Climate Change that there would be a ban on plastic bags, SYAH chose multi tasked approach – online and offline education, action orientated policy and research. They coined their campaign with the hashtag – #SayYesToThePlasticBan of which 12 clean ups over 12 months took place mobilising small groups and large groups to take action against coastal littering and raise awareness on the negative impact of plastic. SYAH also aw the collaboration with prison inmates at the Seychelles prison to produce alternatives to plastic bags where the inmates produced bags that can be reused of which were then sold and reinvested into the campaign.
Blue Economy Internship Programme
The Blue Economy is a developing world initiative pioneered by Small Island Developing States (SIDS) aimed at changing mindsets and behaviour of using the ocean as a means of free resource and waste dumping – a mechanism for a more sustainable use of the ocean. As well as endorsing the importance of the ocean towards a country’s prosperity, it also encourages sustainable development of conducting ocean based economic activity.
With youth unemployment rising across the world, SYAH Seychelles is driving for young people to use new opportunities such as the Blue Economy to promote sustainable development opportunities by exposing them to existing frameworks and organisations that fall under the Blue Economy remit. The internship includes a 2 week placement in different organisation followed by a fully funded trip to Mauritius provided that the interns fulfil their deliverables. In Mauritius the interns learn and exchange information about the developments of the ocean economy within the region.With the exposure to different sectors under the Blue Economy, the aim is that young people can then assess where the gaps remain and how the would like to start an enterprise to bridge the existing gaps.
Dive Against Debris
SYAH will soon be launching a new project called Dive Against Debris which aims to allow participants to get their Open Water PADI Certificate in order to Dive against Debris in the next two years to reduce marine pollution in the ocean.
Seychelles Islands Foundation & the Aldabra Clean Up Project (SIF)
The Seychelles Islands Foundation (SIF) is a non-profit charitable organisation that was established as a public trust by the government of Seychelles in 1979. SIF manages and protects the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Aldabra Atoll and the Vallée de Mai and has the President of Seychelles, Danny Faure, as Patron. SIF is managed by a Board of Trustees of 15 members who are appointed by the President. The foundation is mandated and dedicated to ensuring that the World Heritage Sites of Seychelles are well-managed protected areas where conservation, research, education and tourism are sustainably balanced. A major focus is on scientific research to direct, support and improve conservation management of the unique biodiversity and ecosystems of these two very different sites. SIF have undertaken a myriad of projects such as the European Union Invasive Alien Species Project aimed at addressing the problem of invasive species in the two world heritage sites in Seychelles, Aldabra & the Vallée de Mai on Praslin Island; the UNESCO funded eradication of introduced birds on Aldabra which was successfully completed in 2017.
The Aldabra Clean-Up Project
Plastic pollution is affecting the world’s second largest coral atoll, the home of the largest population of giant tortoises and a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the majestic Aldabra. The plastic pollution that has been washing up on the shorelines of Aldabra for decades now, blocks the paths of nesting green turtles, entangles and is ingested by seabirds and waders, and strangles marine mammals such as dolphins and whales. Pieces of plastic from this washed up debris are even increasingly found in the droppings of (land-based) giant tortoises.
SIF is currently spearheading the first ever ‘Aldabra Clean-Up Project’ that unites six Oxford Graduate student volunteers with six Seychellois Volunteers, selected through a national video competition. The project was launched in the UK in May 2018 at the Royal Society, and in Seychelles by the President of Seychelles (SIF’s Patron) in June 2018. The project is aimed at tackling the problem of marine plastic pollution through action, education and research. With the accumulation of plastics on the coastline of Aldabra over several decades the impact on Aldabra’s wildlife has been noticeable and in recent years that action had to be taken! The team of 12 volunteers will remove waste from Aldabra’s shores on a five-week expedition in March 2019, which will then be transported over 1000km to Mahé for proper processing.
The project encompasses much more than just a beach clean-up, the volunteers have been fundraising to cover the costs of the project, whilst also raising awareness locally and globally on the huge impact of marine pollution. During this unique expedition the volunteers will be collecting trash from all the different areas of Aldabra, even the most remote sites and the waste will be split into categories with some items such as flip flops, plastic bottles, glass bottles, fishing buoys and rope collected separately in slings and gunny bags and sent to Mahé where further segregation will take place. With the aim of re-using and re-purposing the waste, items like buoys will be given to organisations operating at sea, especially conservation-oriented ones based in Seychelles, as well as involving local and international processors to find out whether plastic can be baled and reused. A whole operation will be underway to make sure that as much waste was possible isn’t landfilled, and in the most creative way, SIF hope to create art pieces and other exhibits from plastic, particularly flip flops which are hard to recycle.
To date, beach surveys have identified 73 brands with products washed ashore on Aldabra and it was found that a 100 metre stretch of Aldabra beach, during the northwest season, receives on average five kilograms of marine debris daily! Moreover these surveys have indicated that while flip flops, lighters and drink bottles are the most numerous items being washed on to Aldabra, fishing gear (ropes, nets and buoys) is the most prominent form marine debris by weight. More information on the quantity, composition, source of this marine debris as well as the effort needed to remove it will be made available after the expedition through our social media platforms (@AldabraCleanup) and more official channels. It is our hope that this research will inform individual choices as well corporate and governmental policies to make the necessary changes. Ultimately, the Aldabra Clean-Up Project will provide a baseline for future and further actions on top of being an example of what a group of committed young people can accomplish together.