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Waves of Garbage Are Washing onto a Beach in the Dominican Republic

The trash was pushed onto Montesinos Beach by a recent storm, but environmentalists say the scene is becoming all the more common

The "dense garbage carpet" that is washing onto Montesinos Beach in Santo Domingo (Parley for the Oceans )
smithsonian.com

The pristine shores of Montesinos Beach in the Dominican Republic have been transformed into a nightmarish scene, with garbage-filled waves depositing literal tons of refuse onto the sand. As Palko Karasz of the New York Times reports, hundreds of city workers and volunteers have been working to clear away the trash—but the mucky waves keep on coming.

Footage shot by the environmental group Parley for the Oceans shows a mass of trash, most of it plastic, rippling as a wave rolls beneath it. In a statement, Parley describes the accumulation as “a dense garbage carpet.”

More than 500 public workers have been dispatched to deal with the problem, and the Dominican Republic’s navy and army are also assisting in the cleanup effort. Within three days, Parley says, workers removed 30 tons of plastic from the beach, which is located in the capital city of Santo Domingo.

The plastic bottles, Styrofoam containers and other refuse that are now clogging up Montesinos Beach are coming from the Ozama River, where people, often living in informal settlements, have taken to dumping their trash, up to 90,000 tons per year. According to Lorraine Chow of EcoWatch, the trash was pushed ashore by a recent storm. Parley founder Cyrill Gutsch tells the BBC that this is not an unusual occurrence.

“What we’re seeing here is unfortunately the new normal,” he says. “The plastic wave you’re seeing here is material that got flushed down the rivers. It’s not something that gathered for a long time. One strong storm can cause this.”

The plastic on the beach is, in fact, just a small fraction of the trash that is being dumped into the water; most of it gets washed out to sea. And the Dominican Republic is far from the only nation contributing to the staggering quantity of trash in the Earth’s oceans. A recent study found that coastal countries alone sent eight million tons of plastic trash into the oceans in 2010. Yet another recent report predicted that in just over 30 years, plastic will outweigh fish in the ocean.

There is a seemingly constant stream of sobering reminders about the dire impact of plastic refuse on marine ecosystems. Just last month, a pilot whale that died off the coast of Thailand was found with 80 plastic bags in its stomach. In March of this year, it was revealed that the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a huge accumulation of mostly plastic debris, is between four and 16 times larger that experts previously thought.

Gutsch, the founder of Parley, tells the BBC that recycling won't do enough to alleviate this global plastic problem. "Even if you recycle [plastic] and even if you use it in the best possible way, it always leaches chemicals," he says. A better solution, he explains to Karasz of the Times, is drastically cutting back on single-use plastics.

“Garbage emergencies like this are urgent reminders that we need to act fast,” Parley says in its statement. “Unless urgent action is taken, scenes like this will become more common all over the world in the coming years as we reach a plastic tipping point.

About Brigit Katz

Brigit Katz is a freelance writer based in Toronto. Her work has appeared in a number of publications, including NYmag.com, Flavorwire and Tina Brown Media's Women in the World.

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