It’s easy to think, when you gaze out into the wild Atlantic, that you are confronting a wilderness free from the processes, laws and weirdness of the modern world.
At one level, of course, you are. No human hand or institution can properly tame the watery portion of the planet, which is of course the greatest in volume and area. But at another level, the apparently unruly ebb, flow and shudder of the seas is as much about us stand-up monkeys as the geophysics of the elements.
Ever since the age of exploration when human empires scoured the edges of the known world to claim territory, plunder goods and subjugate peoples, we have imposed definitions, laws – not to mention the product of our own frailties – on the ocean. We have along the way changed the nature of the floating world.
We’ve spent the last couple of centuries imposing the laws of the landlocked highways on the oceans whilst at the same time throwing our crap over the sides of our boats – and all the while arguing over the spoils. Our beaches are strewn with the evidence of our carelessness – like the pristine hedges along the country lane besmirched by jettisoned cans of Red Bull and tubes of Pringles.
Millions of tonnes of waste are thrown over the side of commercial shipping every year. International crews sail on ships under ‘flags of convenience’ under which no human rights, health and safety or environmental regulation are enforced. They are under no legal obligation to do anything other than chuck their rubbish, their waste, and the excess baggage over the side.
But it’s not only irresponsible sailors who are causing the problem of this toxic jetsam. The cruise ship industry has been booming for the last twenty years. These floating cathedrals of consumption, carrying as many as 5000 people at a time, are adept at leaving a toxic trail of untreated sewage in their wakes.
According to Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) who have called on the cruise industry to make the necessary investment to introduce onboard sewage treatment solutions, only a very few ships to date have made a commitment to do so.
Loopholes in current legislation mean that sewage and other waste continues to be discharged to sea, even from ships sailing under the British flag.
Coastal fauna is damaged and marine wildlife destroyed – and the unsuspecting recreational water user (that’s you and me) is put at risk.
The seemingly unstoppable tide of plastic, which it has been estimated can stick around in the ocean for as much as 500 years, is increasing in volume every year. Some scientists have calculated that there can be no beaches left on the entire planet – even in the furthest flung islands of Polynesia, that aren’t strewn with plastic waste.
Join the Surfers Against Sewage campaign to rage against the toxic tides: