Fisheries are often under the line of fire when it comes to environmental issues. Bottom trawling, in particular, leads to large numbers of marine bi-catch which get caught up in nets. The nets themselves destroy coral reefs which form the homes for many species of fish. Other practices, such as shark finning and whaling, have preyed exclusively upon species that are entering the threshold of extinction.
But, whether or not you subscribe to a totally vegetarian or vegan diet, fishing doesn’t have to be an entirely destructive practice. Done safely, it can provide an efficient food source without destroying large areas of marine habitat. And now, in Indonesia, another use is being put to the fishing net.
Around 150 million metric tonnes of plastic are currently swimming through our oceans, breaking down slowly into microplastics, entering the food chain of fish and eventually making its way back up to us, in our food, medicines and drinking supplies. With 8 million tonnes added annually, by 2030, we’ll have roughly 250 million metric tonnes of waste to contend with. And by 2050, they’ll be more plastic than fish in the ocean!
While the obvious answer to this problem is to ban plastic production, this hardly accounts for the vast amount of plastic rubbish already at sea. Indonesia, however, has a solution that makes complete commercial sense, utilising assets that already exist to rid the surrounding ocean of plastic. The program uses fishing boats and their nets to catch plastic trash, budgeting 1.03 rupiah (around $124,000 NZ) to pay 1,721 fishers. The average pay for fishers will be slightly higher than their normal fishing catch, and so at least introduces a tasty hook for commercial fishing boats. The cleanup initiative is part of Indonesia’s larger goal of cutting back marine plastic by 70% before 2025.
The obvious drawback to this plan is its brevity. The program, which began on the 1st of October, lasts only four weeks, with the hope that each fisher can collect around 4 kilograms of plastic each. While any amount of collection will ultimately prove beneficial, having a deadline on the program means that its impact will likely be quickly undermined. Still, the program is a start for the country, which produces around 6.8 million metric tons of plastic per year, with 620,000 metric tons ending up in the ocean. It’s one that could easily be adopted elsewhere in the world, particularly here in New Zealand, a country that fishes over 100,000 tonnes of hoki a year alone.
The next question is where to from here. Indonesia plans to spend $1 billion in the next three years to achieve this all-important goal, with most of it surrounding beach cleanups, plastic bans and single-use plastic restrictions. These are completely necessary for ridding the world’s dependence on plastic items and ensuring our future. But, as innovative and exciting as these solutions are, they don’t address the problem out at sea, so to speak. Particularly the problem that’s twice the size of Texas, located halfway between California and Hawaii, commonly known as ‘Trash Island’. Or the swirling vortexes of plastic that impact our ecosystems, clog our beaches and pollute our rivers.
The exact solution to this problem is largely one of trial and error. We’ve previously covered one particular enzyme (FAST-PETase), which can degrade PET plastics at practically any temperature — you can find out more in our article here. Another solution to intercept the five trillion bits of plastic floating in our oceans has been to create artificial coastlines where the plastic can concentrate and be collected. These coastlines are ‘plastic hotspots’, using computer modelling to predict where plastic will concentrate in future. Another project will attempt the same feat but stemming rivers instead of oceans, focusing on the 1000 or so rivers responsible for 80% of riverine pollution. It, too, uses u-shaped intelligent collectors and fences to collect plastic river pollution.
Both projects, initiatives of The Ocean Cleanup, are funded by collective partnerships between companies and individual donors. They plan to recycle or safely dispose of much of the plastic they collect, turning it into permanent reusable items. The project’s aim is to remove 90% of the total plastic in oceans by 2050. If you want to learn more about The Ocean Cleanup, begin a career or donate to the cause, you can find a link to them here. Check out their website for live reports on ocean clean-up projects and to track the spread of plastics worldwide.
This ongoing effort could be the long-term solution Indonesia needs. However, using existing fishing boats is an ingenious, low-tech way of handling the problem. For us at Eartha, we hope the good it brings inspires other actions both in Indonesia and around the rest of the world.
If you want to support another good cause, both for yourself and the environment, we’re committed to removing 1 kg of plastic for every eco-friendly yoga mat we sell. We’re partnered with Clean Hub, an initiative that converts ocean plastics into recyclable material or as fuel sources for non-recyclables. Partnering with a local waste company Geocycle, Clean Hub has built tracking software to check on the progress of plastics from waste collection to final end reusable material, with the capacity to process more than 11 million tonnes of plastic waste a year.
You can find out more about them if you’d like to support Clean Hub’s ongoing mission. Or, if you want to support them whilst getting yourself an eco-friendly yoga mat that won’t need to be recycled as it’s biodegradable, you can grab one here.
Together, we can help end the dependence on nonrecyclable by introducing more biodegradable and nonharmful products into our lives. But for now, the oceans need cleaning. The more we can invest in helping good initiatives and in developing new scientific techniques, the closer to can come to this goal.
- Corbley, Andy. “Fishermen Getting Paid to Collect Plastic Trash at Sea, As Indonesia Slashes Pollution” on Good News Network. 11th October, 2022. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3CXRMlN.
- Gokkon, Basten. “Indonesian program pays fishers to collect plastic trash at sea” on Mongabay. Date Published: 6th October, 2022. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3MycID0.
- Kiprop, Victor. “How Much Plastic Is The Ocean?” on WorldAtlas. Date Published: 7th June, 2018. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3D2p5E4.
- “Fish Stock Status” on Ministry for Primary Industries. Last Reviewed: 23rd August, 2022. Site Link: https://bit.ly/3gew3gF.
- “The Largest Cleanup In History” on The Ocean Cleanup. Date Sourced: 16th October, 2022. Site Link: https://theoceancleanup.com/.
- “The Trash Island” on The Ocean Cleanup. Date Sourced: 16th October, 2022. Site Link: https://theoceancleanup.com/trash-island/.
About the author - meet Earthan James McCulloch
James is a literary student and environmental enthusiast who likes thinking about the better futures we could have (and those we best avoid). When not playing with other people’s dogs or taking long, mindful walks, he’s usually found reading and writing, often at the local library. You can check him out on his blog for something a little different, where he talks about all things literary or otherwise.