A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to travel to Italy’s Cinque Terre, a beautiful series of towns along the Italian Riviera. The scenes were absolutely breathtaking, with buoyant colourful buildings along the cliffs and a bright blue water at the edge of each harbour. I had a wonderful time and can easily say I’ve never been somewhere so picturesque. However, that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
In spite of the remarkable views, the storm cloud over my trip came from the disappointing amount of trash in the waters along the coast. When stepping into the waters at the rocky beach of Riomaggiore, I immediately raced out in frustration as a yogurt bottle floated next to me. It left a horrible taste in my mouth (and that wasn’t from the salt water). The juxtaposition of such a beautiful place and so much garbage in the water seems incredibly unfair. From my immediate reaction, I felt disgusted. Selfishly, I had the urge to wash my skin right away from the realization that I was swimming in rubbish. Then I started to realize the magnitude of what this yogurt bottle represented.
Our oceans are polluted. There are many fingers to point at who is to blame. There are several areas of contribution, such as oil spills, sewage, land run-off, and overall littering. The last one is my area of focus because there is plastic and waste in our waters and it’s very much our human fault.
There are over 500 “dead zones” existing in the world, meaning parts of the ocean with little to no oxygen that can’t sustain life. tarts from the tiniest plankton dying off that feeds the bigger fish and the whales and the birds and, by the way, feeds the humans too. Consider what the fish we eat are living in and the small pieces of trash or micro-plastics they are ingesting. These are chemicals we’re also putting into our bodies. We also see how animals become ensnared by plastic and become suffocated. And all this toxicity in the water and in the overall climate affects the levels of carbon dioxide, dramatically altering the temperatures of the water. All of this affects biodiversity; there are only 10,000 - 25,000 Blue Whales left in the world. The quality of life in our oceans is deteriorating and this transition of an ecosystem affects us on land too.
I know there are oceans around the world and coasts that have more trash on the water’s surface than anything blue. I know Cinque Terre is not in the most grave danger compared to some of the coasts of Asia. Nevertheless, it’s terrible to think that we as a planet have let it get this far.
My issue to point out is with tourism. I say this with some guilt as I am a traveller. I’m currently travelling. I know this makes my carbon footprint greater. Tourism is both a blessing and curse. It’s a truly remarkable way of connecting the world. It’s allowed people from Vancouver to understand how people in Tokyo live. We’re so lucky that flying overseas and staying in other countries is relatively affordable compared to even twenty years ago, but of course this comes with a price. It’s become so accessible that travelling has turned into a commodity. People hop on a plane and stay in an apartment with such ease. The dangers of this come when people lose sight of the privilege they are given. The privilege of entering somebody else’s home and understanding that it’s not your own. It will be entirely different in many ways and that’s something to be in awe of. The danger is the disrespect. When people come into cities like Barcelona and only use the space to cause ruckus and party. When people use beautiful beaches of Thailand or even the exquisite lands of Cinque Terre that I witnessed only as a place for photos. These places are not your playground, they’re a part of your world. The meaning of travelling has been lost somewhere. It’s been replaced by the need to get a good instagram photo. To show our community that we went somewhere. In so many cases it’s no longer about the culture.
For my birthday today I am raising money for the Ocean Cleanup. This is an organization I truly believe in and am personally attached to this cause. Please donate whatever you can by clicking the link below.