Even the remotest islands in the world are suffering pollution emanating from the sea and Bird Island is sadly no exception. Over the last weekend a group of French volunteers paid a short visit to clean the beaches of rubbish that had floated ashore. Today, the day after their departure, Christine and I walked around the north point of the island after our monitoring of incubating Sooty Terns, and during this short walk we picked up glass and plastic bottles, flip-flops and a fibreglass section of a boat that must have floundered at some stage in the past. In addition, we found a Fish Aggregating Device (FAD), an assemblage of flotation buoys and netting used by tuna fisheries to attract fish to local areas where they can be most efficiently caught. When broken free of their moorings, FADs can pose a threat to other marine life that can become trapped in the netting. These wash up regularly on Bird Island, sometimes accompanied by GPS beacon location floats, expensive items that use satellite technology to guide fishing boats to the FAD but which seem to be regarded as expendable by the fishing industry. FAD debris is often large and thus difficult to remove form the beach by island staff and dispose of elsewhere. As a result, FADs can constitute long-term unsightly reminders of one of Seychelles’ main industries, commercial fishing, to customers of the other main industry, tourism.
Bird Island, the northernmost island of the Seychelles archipelago, suffers relatively lightly from this marine pollution. The situation is much worse on the southernmost islands. Two Island Conservation Society staff, Aurélie Duhec and Richard Jeanne, recently reported massive beach pollution on Farquhar Atoll. I experienced this on Assumption Island, close to Aldabra, during a 6-month stay there while working with Seychelles Islands Foundation in 2011-2012. During this stay, the sea on the morning of 19 February 2012 was flat calm. While scanning the sea for birds, turtles and cetaceans with my binoculars, I became aware that the sea surface, from the beach to the horizon, was covered in plastic waste, pieces of fishing netting and buoys, wood, tins and glass containers, many of which end up on the island’s beaches.
While some of the waste is of local origin, most is not and plastic and glass bottles bearing foreign labels far outnumber those from Seychelles. It is clear that oceanic plastic pollution is a global problem, one that will have very long-term consequences including contamination of food chains, some of which end in our bodies!