This past weekend I ran across the story of Afroz Shah, a Mubai attorney who decided to embark on the clean-up of India’s Versova Beach, one of the dirtiest beaches in the world. It has been a long journey beginning in October of 2015 and ending just last month, but over the 85-week period, approximately 5,842 tons of trash was removed. In a place where the shoreline was once nearly invisible due to rubbish, the beach is now clean and pristine. As for Shah, he was awarded the prestigious Champion of the Earth award this past month, the United Nation’s top environmental accolade.
Happier times for some...
While stories and pictures of garbage-laden beaches are not particularly characteristic of developed countries, this truly is a global issue. From Australia to the United States, there are hundreds of beaches around the world where our lax attitudes towards water have compromised safe recreation and paved the way to health and safety warnings as well as beach closures. While the main cause of these closures might not be five-foot-high piles of garbage, I’ll give you a hint… It’s certainly not Great White Sharks either! So, what’s to blame? Several things-- sewage spills contaminated with E.coli and other dangerous bacteria, stormwater burdened with chemicals from roadways and vehicles, and runoff loaded with pesticides and fertilizers.
Within the United States alone, the past several months have ushered in beach closings in New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Florida: all a result of contaminated water. A report published this month deemed almost fifty percent of Los Angeles County, California, beaches unsafe for swimming. In February, thirty-six beaches in Melbourne, Australia, were closed due to fecal contamination from storm water runoff. The list goes on and on, but these impacts on our world’s beaches are not just dangerous to our health, safety, ecosystems, and aquatic life, but the economy as well. In a recent University of Hawaii, Manoa study, researchers showed that “water-quality degradation presents real and serious costs to the environment and human welfare, and in destinations important for beach tourism, it could threaten an industry contributing trillions of dollars to the global GDP.” A 2014 National Oceanic and Atmospheric (NOAA) study performed in southern California, revealed that just a 25% reduction in beach litter could save communities $32 million. Furthermore, decreasing litter by 75% could save taxpayers upwards of $106 million. And these figures are just for ocean beaches! What about the numerous lakes and rivers we use for recreation that are also constantly subject to safety warnings regarding water quality?
As this past week marked our official entrance into summer, the time has come for vacations and escapes from sweltering heat. If you are like most, this probably means a trip to some ocean, lake, or river in the near future. Around the world, it’s a quintessential pastime, but before you make the trip you might want to make sure the water where you are going is actually safe. It’s truly a testament to how water affects every aspect of our life, even our vacations! However, as long as poor regulations and failing infrastructures continue to be the standard in the management of our world’s water resources, the reality is that the situation will only worsen.
Chatterjee, B. (2017, June 5). In pics: 85 weeks later, 5.3 million kg trash lighter, this is what Versova beach looks like now. Retrieved from Hidustan Times: http://www.hindustantimes.com/mumbai-news/in-pics-85-weeks-later-5-3-million-kg-trash-lighter-this-is-what-versova-beach-looks-like-now/story-pgJ0BEaYoSUuKxvpm56Z1M.html
Deamer, K. (2017, February 8). Poopy Situation Down Under: Why 36 Australian Beaches Were Closed. Retrieved from LiveScience: https://www.livescience.com/57804-australia-beaches-closed-fecal-contamination.html
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. (2014). Assessing the Economic Benefits of Reductions in Marine Debris: A Pilot Study of Beach Recreation in Orange County, California . NOAA.
Oleson, K., & Peng, M. (2017). "Beach Recreationalists' Willingness to Pay and Economic Implications of Coastal Water Quality Problems in Hawaiʻi," Read more at: https://phys.org/news/2017-03-importance-coastal-quality-recreational-beach.html#jCp. University of Hawaii at Manoa. Retrieved from University of Hawaii at Menoa.
Weikel, D. (2017, June 15). Bummer: Report card says some Southern California beaches might make you sick. Retrieved from Los Angeles Times: http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-beach-report-card-20170615-htmlstory.htm