Microplastic befouls 57-mile stretch of tourist beaches on Sri Lankan coast

The southern coastline of Sri Lanka, which features popular beaches and resorts, is a draw for tourists visiting the country, but it turns out that the global plastic crisis could now endanger those once pristine locations, according to a new paper published recently in the Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Researchers found that along a 57-mile stretch of the Sri Lankan coastline, 60 percent of the sand samples and 70 percent of the surface water samples contained a high level of microplastics (MPs).

Lead author J.  Bimali Koongolla, a marine scientist at the University of Ruhana in Sri Lanka, noted:

“‘Microplastic waste is becoming a serious environmental problem in Sri Lanka, once considered an island state with unblemished pristine beaches. The seas are getting contaminated, and beyond environmental, this poses a severe health hazard as it impacts food chains.’

“She attributed the rising levels of microplastics in the seas and beaches to be poor waste management and an inability to break away from age-old littering practices.

“’The use of plastics is increasing non-biodegradable waste production. These plastics eventually get washed into the seas, polluting the very environment [local communities] depend on for sustenance.'”

Even more troubling was that while the recreational beaches had high levels of MPs, more remote stretches of beach and fishing ports  contained even higher amounts of both microplastic and other plastic debris.

Additionally, while tourist beaches are routinely cleaned, that process only serves to emebed the MPs deeper in the sand, meaning they remain and contaminate the area.

Tourism continues to flourish in Sri Lanka, Koongolla added, but proper waste management practices have not yet been implemented:

“[The] South has traditionally had a high density of tourist activity, along its coast. While we cannot confirm if any MP samples we collected originated in the sea from fisheries or commercial vessels or on land, we can confirm that these beaches are used heavily due to increased tourist activity and tend to leave a lot of visible plastic debris.”

Ultimately, however, the source of the microplastics must be located, according to Professor Koongolla:

“Once we narrow down the localities that are particularly polluting, it is easier to introduce waste management initiatives and to take other preventive action. These can vary from restriction of single-use plastics to having better recycling centers.”

Across the globe, plastic debris is accumulating and polluting everything from the soil we plant in to the water we drink. The problem is getting worse and must be dealt with immediately.


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Andrew Bradford

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