After four days of sailing and about 580 nautical miles, we arrived at Christmas Island in the late afternoon and set anchor at the Flying Fish Cove, the island’s main settlement. The first thing that catches your attention is the huge phosphate mine, which is the only significant economic activity. The island itself carries a very rich biological diversity (its red crabs are probably its most famous islanders). Every year around November one can watch the mass migration of around 100 million crabs as they head to the sea to spawn.
Unfortunately, we arrived in September, so no mass migration. But we were lucky enough to see a coconut crab, and those guys are also very impressive! Two-thirds of the island has been declared a national park and 18 plant species are endemic, which underlines the biological richness of the island.
After our first night on the island, we met Lin Gaff from Island Care and headed for Greta Beach, one of the few beaches located south of the island. On our way, I found a description by the Christmas Island Tourism Association about Greta Beach:
“Approximately 30 minutes drive from Settlement and then a short three minute walk into the beach through rainforest. This beach is a collection point for interesting flotsam and jetsam washed ashore and is home to thousands of tiny hermit crabs. There is a secluded rock pool at the end of the beach suitable for children when it is calm. This is a major site for crab spawning and turtles nest all year round on this beach.”
What we found was way over our estimations and imaginations! Greta Beach is just one big rubbish heap! Though, as mentioned by the Tourism Office, we did find some interesting flotsam! Wherever you looked, you could see flip flops, bottles, lighters and toothbrushes all made out of plastic! Marcus told me that he has only seen this much trash on Kamillo Beach on Hawaii.
Joined by local police officers, we started to collect all the plastic that we could find and filled up around 100 bags full of plastic rubbish. Nevertheless, there was still a lot lying around after our beach cleanup, and as we sifted the sand you could see all the microplastic appearing. Greta Beach normally is a hatching place for turtles, but due to all the rubbish, there is no space at all for them. The worst part: Lin told me that they do a beach cleanup here almost every week! Bearing in mind that we are on a small island, 580 nautical miles away from Bali – like a pinhead in the Indian Ocean – how crazy is it to find so much plastic? And if we think about what we see on this small beach, how much has to be out there floating around on our oceans?
The people from Island Care, together with the local police, do beach cleanups regularly, which is a great thing. But when asking what is happening with all the plastic that we collected, Lin told me that they cannot recycle it, so they have to either burn it on land or just bring it to a landfill where they might dig holes and bury it. Since plastic is light, the chance is quite high that some of it on the landfills might be taken by the wind and finally again end up in the ocean. So it is a minimization of the impact but not a final solution to the problem, which is often the case no matter if you are on Christmas Island or somewhere else.
Beach cleanups are necessary and often a good way to make people aware of the problem in an active way. But just moving the rubbish from A to B is not that effectual, one has to think a bit further and look for C (e.g. bringing the plastic into the recycling pathway or burning it properly.)
Lin brought us to the landfill where she and Marcus had an interesting discussion about the “Flip-Flop Beach.”
I also took the chance to go diving and was amazed at the beauty of the underwater life, including the huge corals, which looked healthy. During my dives, I didn’t spot any plastic at all, which might have been due to the fact that Island Care had just conducted one of their regular underwater cleanups.
Island Care Underwater Cleanup
Founded 20 years ago by a group of diving instructors, Project AWARE’s mission is to educate and support divers in their own communities to protect oceans by collecting data about the debris found underwater. Check out their homepage to find out more.
Check also out the world’s first bottle made with ocean plastic.