Efforts to contain plastic pollution off the coast of Kerala

As the world marked Ocean Day on Wednesday, the state’s 24 fishing ports were the focus of the “Suchitwa Saagaram, Sundara Theeram” (Clean Sea, Beautiful Coast) campaign which was launched as pilot at Neendakara fishing harbor in Kollam under a state government initiative to clean Kerala’s coastal waters and coastline from the accumulation of plastic waste.

PI Sheik Pareeth, chief executive of the Kerala State Coastal Area Development Corporation, said Neendakara’s experience in collecting and recycling plastic waste from the sea that was accumulating in trawls and nets used by operators traditional fishing boats had been positively recognized globally.

He said plastic waste, including bags, bottles and ropes from nets, was collected by a group of trained women who separated them. Plastic waste is now sorted, cleaned and crushed for use in road construction. The program is expected to cover all major fish landing centers and ports by September and October, he added.

It is learned that plastic pellets worth around ₹22 lakh made from waste collected from the sea have been sold in the past two years. Pellets have been used in road construction mainly in Kollam district. About 1.45 lakh kilograms of plastic materials have been collected till December 2021, sources from the port engineering department said.

Mr Pareeth said the program for plastic-free coastal waters and coastal areas would also involve the creation of awareness groups in each local body to educate fishermen and residents on the proper disposal of plastic products.

Jagjeevan, former general secretary of Kerala Sasthra Sahithya Parishad, said policy changes like the decision to tighten the ban on making plastic bags below 50 microns by the end of June could help contain the problem of considerable way. The ban had come into force in 2020, but the pandemic has hit its implementation.

T. Raghuvaran, Secretary General of the Matsya Thozhilali Federation (AITUC), said plastic was a major problem affecting even inland fisheries. He added that recent estimates had put the total accumulation of plastic in inland waters at around 700 tonnes. Pollution and congestion of inland waters have affected fish resources and the livelihoods of fishermen, he added.

PP Udayaghosh, state chairman of Bharathiya Matsya Pravarthaka Sangham, said there were serious concerns about the accumulation of plastic waste, especially plastic bags, in the backwaters, which eventually ended up in marine waters off the coast of Kerala. While plastic bottles are easy to detect, bags and other materials tend to stay submerged. Awareness campaigns are being carried out among fishermen to avoid the use of plastic in an effort to contain the possible destruction of resources by plastic pollution, he said.

Bryce K. Locke