Talking garbage – time to clean up our act

A teacher who lives in north Mahe contacted us recently. ‘I know you’re probably not the right people to speak to’, she said, somewhat anxiously, ‘But I needed to speak to somebody, I’m so annoyed.’ She had just returned from one of her regular walks in Beau Vallon, and wanted to complain to someone about the litter problem there.

Sea litter found in Seychelles waters © C. Jameson

Among other things littering is an environmental issue, as well as being an ethical and aesthetic issue too. The presence of litter says something very concerning about the attitude of some individuals to their immediate environment, fellow human beings, surroundings, and the planet as a whole.

When challenged about casual littering, some Seychellois will say their behaviour is acceptable because it is someone else’s job to clean it up. It is true that people are employed to do this work. But what happens in the time between when the litter is dropped and the clean-up teams remove it? In that period, the garbage disfigures these beautiful islands. It attracts stray dogs, it sustains rats, mice, feral cats and pigeons, which can all be a public nuisance and health hazard. And what impression does this litter give visitors of what we think of our own country?

And then there is the direct physical harm that litter can cause to people and wildlife. We know that rare and precious marine animals like turtles can die from entanglements with synthetic debris. Birds and other animals can be injured by tin cans and other sharp objects, and of course broken glass is a hazard to ourselves, to our friends, neighbours and children.

We are aware that sometimes the problem stems from overflowing public bins. When garbage is not secured, it is easily spread by dogs, cats, mynahs, etc. There may be an issue here about the capacity of the waste disposal services to cope with current demand. Perhaps we should all be doing more to encourage re-use, recycling and domestic composting of organic waste. This is a subject for another column. But it is also plain that a lot of litter is dropped by the public. We have all seen it pushed out of the windows of cars and we know it is dumped over the side of boats. Every month the staff on Cousin Island Special Reserve gather several gunny sacks of garbage from the coastline. The same is true for most if not all of our otherwise pristine islands.

Of course the litter we have to pick up on our beaches here could be coming from boats of many flags. Littering is not a problem that is confined to Seychelles. It is a problem in many countries. Next week sees the United Nations’ global Clean up the World weekend (September 16 - 18). Nature Seychelles and the Wildlife Clubs are encouraging members to do their bit and get involved. We encourage all Seychellois and visitors to do their bit too, not just next week, but hereafter. Even if you don’t litter, you may know someone who does. We can all play a part in changing negative attitudes to littering and waste disposal, hopefully before any more damage is done, and before anyone or anything else gets badly hurt.

Nature Seychelles, published on Regar Weekly Newspaper, Seychelles, 5th September 2005

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