Labuan Bajo is a small town on the island of Flores in Komodo National Park, Indonesia. It’s popular with tourists for two main reasons. First, no trip to the region is complete without a visit to see the dinosaur-like Komodo dragons, which live on the nearby islands of Komodo and Rinca. Secondly, the area is well known for its species-abundant waters and exciting ocean currents, which attract divers from around the world.
Tourism in Labuan Bajo relies almost entirely on these incredible natural environments and, as a result, so does the local economy and job market. Despite this, the ocean around Labuan Bajo is not yet a marine protected area, and little has been done until recently to educate the local people about preserving it.
It’s not uncommon to see people throw trash into the bushes at the side of the road, and the shoreline is littered with plastic bags and bottles, which easily find their way into the water.
With plans for the local airport to start welcoming international flights in the near future, the likelihood is that more and more people will flock to the town and the trash problem will only intensify.
WHY IS IT A PROBLEM?
Aside from looking unsightly and smelling pretty foul, the main concern is that the trash that’s discarded around Labuan Bajo will end up in the ocean and affect marine life. Turtles have been known to mistake plastic bags for jelly fish and will choke on them when they try to eat them. Plastic pellets look like fish eggs to sea birds, and discarded nets can easily entangle marine life, preventing animals from feeding or from reaching the surface to take a breath.
A trash problem in one area like Labuan Bajo contributes to pollution issues on a worldwide scale. Plastic in particular takes a very long time to disintegrate, so it continues to be an issue for hundreds of years. The ocean is already home to billions of pounds of plastic, which tends to collect in ocean gyres before forming giant garbage patches. One such patch is twice the size of Texas. Plastic constitutes approximately 90 per cent of all trash floating on the ocean’s surface, with 46,000 pieces of plastic per square mile. Annually, one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed as a direct result.
HOW IS TRASH HERO HELPING?
Every time a Trash Hero team sets out, they collect a significant amount of plastic from the streets, but Labuan Bajo is so big – and the problem so widespread – that there’s a limit to the impact this can have. That’s why the main way the project aims to be effective is through voluntary compliance as a result of increased awareness.
As well as collecting trash, Trash Hero volunteers wave branded flags and use a megaphone to spread the message of why it’s so important to recycle.
It’s quite encouraging to see how many locals stop in their tracks and help out for a few minutes, and it’s hoped that, with time, it will become less socially acceptable to throw trash on the floor. Big bins have been provided around town and the more people’s behaviour is influenced by this initiative, the bigger the knock on effect it will have as the town inevitably expands to meet tourism demands.
HOW TO GET INVOLVED
The actual location of the pick-up activities changes each week, but the meet-up point in Labuan Bajo is currently the post office on the main road about two minutes’ walk from the Blue Marlin restaurant and dive centre.
Volunteers gather at 3 pm and set about labelling bags with the word ‘plastic’. They then relocate to a particular part of town and spend about two hours picking up all of the plastic they can find. Non-plastic items are usually burned, but these are few and far between.
At the end of a session, the bags are weighed and the results recorded as evidence of the project’s activities.
It’s hot, hard work, so volunteers should make sure they bring water and sunscreen, and dress in old clothes they don’t mind getting dusty or snagged. Gloves are provided to protect your hands from dirt and thorns.
WHAT ELSE CAN A TRASH HERO DO?
A Trash Hero doesn’t stop at picking up a few plastic bottles once a week. They become a champion for protecting the environment by introducing lifestyle changes to minimise their individual impact. They waste as little as possible, reuse as much as possible, and work to preserve and improve the spaces they live and move in. They can also make a difference in the following ways.
- Educating others, and increasing awareness by sharing their activities on social media, and suggesting that their friends participate in similar clean up initiatives in their home towns.
- If they see someone dropping litter in the street or directly into the ocean, asking them to pick it up and explaining the damage it can cause.
- When buying groceries, considering the packaging used by different brands and selecing those that minimise waste.
- Taking canvas bags to transport their shopping, rather than accumulating plastic carrier bags.
- Oping for biodegradable materials and recycling any plastic waste (choosing PETE or HDPE, which are the most commonly recycled plastics, and avoiding plastic bags and polystyrene foam).
KEEN TO BE ONE?
Great! Why not start today? You can be a Trash Hero from anywhere in the world. It’s easy to make a few small changes to your behaviour and, together with thousands of other Trash Heros around the world, you can help preserve our oceans so they can be enjoyed by future generations.
I took part in Trash Hero Komodo during my PADI Divemaster training with Blue Marlin Komodo. The current meet up time and location is subject to change. Updates can be found on the Trash Hero Komodo Facebook page. Please show your support by giving it a ‘like’ and following their progress.