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Save the Atlantic Coastal islands, before it’s too late

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The throughput of Plastics is vast, versatile and pragmatic making them one of the most essential elements in our daily life. However, the present plastic consumption prototype induces huge of amount of wastes impacting the environment together with the socio-economic consequences. Out of all landforms, the coastal areas get affected deeply because of their location of the land-based source. The situated water bodies are also directly affected by this particular type of pollution due to the vulnerability of being located near potent dumping spots.  Being the populated islands, a primary source for plastics, oceanic insular locations even more threatened by the cause. By various meteoceanographic processes, the islands retain plastics from its adjacent water body which in turn are responsible for supporting life for several unique and endemic habitat systems.

Typically in the Atlantic Ocean, oceanic islands are widespread, stretching along the entire span of the basin ranging from the North high latitudes to the South Low Latitudes. Amongst these, some of the regions are under the responsibility of the State to protect them within various perspectives for historical or strategic reasons (e.g., Tristan da Cunha). Being territorial extensions of developed nations, they might (or not) share social and environmental policies with their head-administrators. Others comprise islanded nations (e.g. Cape Verde) with a few or limited management options. In the Atlantic Ocean, there are several factors which are responsible for the inhabitation or over habitation, for instance, geologic distribution, environmental and climatic diversity. This imbalance makes the spot more threatened towards plastic pollution. The mesmerizing scenarios convert these labile geographic locations to island tourism destinations supporting the influx of a huge number of people. Although it supports the economy, the entire convention faces certain disadvantages because of the limited reach of the resources (water, space, and locally produced food and wastes management options).

Focusing on the Caribbean Sea, plastics and hazardous wastes are dumped into the insular environment and the surrounding waters (e.g., Curaçao) because of the high costs associated for waste disposal in land-based sources. In addition to these, the inaccessibility to several islands is no longer the safety of protection against ocean-based sources of marine debris (i.e., fisheries; shipping). In 2017, Lavers and Bond had conducted a survey identifying the most polluted island in the world with millions of plastic being deposited with a very short span of time.  Henderson Island is contemporarily influenced by the marine current systems originating from the South Pacific Ocean, which transports the floating plastics from the long way and ultimately depositing them there.

In the Atlantic, several research papers reported the distribution of pelagic plastics in oceanic basins (e.g., Thompson et al., 2004; Law et al., 2010; Cozar et al., 2014; Kanhai et al., 2017), exposing the deposition pattern of the sea surface. Few works have also focused on the insular environment, citing for example, temporarily accumulate stranded plastics on its depositional habitats (i.e., beaches). These works are targeted to display the environments of special interests keeping the oceanic islands as the backdrop. Furthermore, they describe the role in the parameters which are responsible for the growth of plastic pollution along the World Ocean.

It can be eventually concluded that islands are permanent reservoirs of plastic marine debris. The surveys on the island ecosystem conservation should be followed by immediate management protocols and regulations. The very same characteristics that turn an island into a spot for a tourist can metamorphose in isolation if not protected with proper management options for services and resources.  The cleanup and the preventive measures should be implemented in an as soon as possible attest to eliminate the issue of macro plastics pollution. However, a challenge still remains for scientists to establish a firm relationship between the environmental pockets (beaches, surrounding waters, islands, and food web) with plastic pollution.

Oceanic islands are extraordinary environmental hotspot which is becoming more susceptible to biota pollution due to the excessive an unplanned disposal of plastic waste. Standing on the present podium, the Atlantic Ocean has not been researched entirely from a viewpoint of plastic pollution – a blank that needs to be filled by our budding scientists.

By: Sayan Basak

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