The findings of the National Institute of Oceanography about considerable presence of micro plastics in water along Goa’s beaches, including those less frequented by tourists, should send out alarming signals to environment-conscious citizens and put environmental activists of the state into some real ground action. The NIO report, based on research on ocean and sea pollution at its Environmental Forensic Laboratory, has found that the water at the pristine beaches like Morjim and Galgibag had very high levels of micro plastic contents. The World Economic Forum (WEF) found that the ocean is expected to contain 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight). The NIO and WEF findings should propel the state authorities into immediate action to prevent plastic dumping in the sea. While the WEF report said plastic was responsible for slow death of marine biota, the NIO study reveals that micro plastics being small in size could easily be gulped by marine beings. The NIO study found micro plastics in mussels.
Various studies have found that while macro plastics like carry bags, bottles and bottle labels cover corals and suffocate them to death, micro plastic pellets dissolve in the corals, paving way for the transportation of harmful chemicals all along the food chain in marine and human life. However, the source of the micro plastic was still to be identified so as to conclusively prove the toxicity and the impact of the plastic pollution on marine and human life. The NIO study so far is limited and there are no other studies that could help determine the quantum of plastic in Indian Ocean as well as along the Goan coast. A detailed study is necessary to estimate the quantum of plastic in sea and ocean and take preventive measures.
A study by Prof Jenna Jambeck of the University of Georgia in February 2015 ranked India 12th among 192 countries in mismanagement of plastic waste. Use of plastic has become ubiquitous in the modern economy, given its unrivalled functional properties with low cost. The use of plastic has increased manifold, especially in packaging, over the years and is expected to double in the next 20 years. Studies have found that use of plastic is for short term and 95% of plastic packaging material value is lost to the economy. The WEF study has indicated that each year, around 8 million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean – which is equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute – a quantity which could rise to two trucks by 2025 and four trucks by 2030 if immediate steps were not initiated. Available statistics from various studies also reveal that a staggering 32% of plastic packaging escapes collection systems. The plastic waste that escapes collection could also lead to reduction of the productivity of vital natural systems and clogging of urban infrastructure. At many places overland in Goa plastic can be seen strewn in large quantities. There have been numerous cases of animals, who feed on the food that is thrown packed in plastic bags, dying due to aftereffect of consumption of plastic.
Though the state government took initiatives to fight plastic menace in Goa about fifteen years ago, determined efforts were not made and the result was no visible success. Citizens in this environment-conscious state continue to use plastics and dump it with the other waste. Despite ban on plastic below 40 microns plastic bags continue to be sold in the Goan markets. Failure of the authorities in implementing the law enacted to fight the hazard has only emboldened unscrupulous elements to continue its sale and subsequent use in the state. Dumping of waste packed in plastic bags is a common sight along the state roads as well as from the bridges into the rivers. Various organisations fighting for protection of environment too appear to be somehow disinclined to undertake a vigorous campaign to motivate and prevent residents and tourists from dumping plastics on land and in sea. They are the ones who are supposed to be among the first to lose sleep over the dangers posed to marine and human life by plastics. The government should not wait for time when the process would be irreversible. They have to wage a war against use of plastics. There is immediate need to deal with the discarded plastic material and to ensure that it does not get dumped in sea.