A beach covered with plastic.
A beach covered with plastic.




According to the scientific research findings of oceanographers and marine biologists, the main sources of marine pollution are ‘oil spills’, loss or dumped ammunition, garbage from ships and boats which mostly comprise of plastic and polythene containers, dumping of nuclear and industrial waste, lost cargo, sewage effluents and chemical fertilizers.

When it comes to Sri Lanka, the ‘Global Coastal Index’ paints a very bad picture of its oceans with the island being ranked 5th out of 20 countries identified for dumping polythene and plastic to the oceans.

China ranks number one on the scale, responsible for marine pollution with a release of 8.82 metric tons of plastic and polythene garbage annually to the oceans.

Research carried out by the US based ‘International Business Times (2010) covering 192 countries showed that Sri Lanka dumped 1.59 metric tons annually into the Indian Ocean.

One of the main sources of such waste stems from low income groups living in close proximity to river banks and fishing communities living along the coastal belt of Sri Lanka who are in the habit of dumping plastic waste material to the rivers, canals and other water ways. During heavy floods these plastic items end up in the sea. In addition, unregulated tourism hotspots along the beach tend to use the beach as a dumping ground for waste. Total ignorance of the damage caused by plastic and polythene garbage on environment and lack of civic consciousness of the Sri Lankans are the factors that aggravated the issues relevant to every aspect of environmental conservation.

Dr. Terney Pradeep Kumar, the General Manager of the Marine Environment Authority of Sri Lanka and former Head of the Faculty of Oceanography and Marine Geology, Ruhuna University has conducted extensive research on marine pollution. He is of the opinion that in resolving environmental constraints in Sri Lanka, a united effort by stakeholders is a must. In addition, all community members at the grassroots level should be made aware of the damage caused to the sensitive marine ecosystems and its biodiversity through the dumping of plastic garbage into the water.


Fortunately, those who earn their livelihood through the tourism industry are conscious of the importance of maintaining the cleanliness of the beach stretch and having the sea free from plastic waste.

The employees of majority of the beach hotels located around the coastal stretch of Sri Lanka are engaged in beach cleaning programmes with the participation of foreign holiday makers. This is being turned into a fast spreading and healthy trend among tourists who are environmentally conscious.

Unfortunately, local holiday makers who make brief visits to tourist resorts are often seen polluting the beach by dumping plastic waste such as plastic bottles, lunch boxes and numerous other plastic containers.

Marine Garbage Vortexes

Annually, more than 135,000 tons of plastic and polythene garbage have been dumped on a regular basis by fishing, naval and commercial vessels. It is also estimated, almost all the fishing crafts across the world engaged in fishing industry lose or discard about 149,000 tons of fishing gear comprising nets, ropes, traps, and buoys made out of plastic and polythene to the oceans.

This garbage dumped into the oceans turn into floating marine garbage vortexes. Due to the powerful wind movements in the oceans, ocean currents circulate forming huge vortices known in oceanography as ‘ gyres’ which pulls in marine garbage comprised of plastic and polythene material in its center. There are five major gyres rotating in the oceans, namely the ‘Indian Ocean Gyre’, ‘North Atlantic Gyre’,

‘North Pacific Gyre’, ‘South Pacific Gyre’ and the ‘South Atlantic Gyre’.

Plastic and polythene constitute nearly 90 percent of garbage found in the oceans and marine scientists estimate that 46,000 pieces of plastic have been identified per square mile. Plastic material floats into the regions where ocean gyres circle large areas of calm water and this plastic debris twists and turns by ocean currents and accumulate in the gyres for years. These areas are known as garbage patches.

The Indian Ocean Gyre was discovered in 2010 and covers a large area of five million square kilometres or two million square miles. Scientific research on Indian Ocean garbage patch however is yet to be complete.

Marine garbage patches circulate in the open oceans and due to effects of sun’s rays, the marine garbage patches comprised of polythene and plastic break into tiny particles. This process known as ‘Photodegradation’; a process where solar radiation causes fragmentation is further aided by wave action. Some plastic pellets have been identified to be fragmented to tiny particles thinner than human hair and some cannot even be seen by the naked eye. These particles are not absorbed into the natural system and these tiny pieces of fragmented plastic and polythene are highly durable and sometimes last for hundreds to thousands of years.


Captain Charles Moore discovered the Great North Pacific Garbage Patch which is also known as Pacific

Trash Vortex in 1997. After the Transpac sailing boat race held in 1999, Captain Charles Moore claimed to have come across massive stretch of floating debris in the Central North Pacific Ocean. It covers the water body of the west coast of North America to Japan. The weight of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch according to marine scientists is around seven million tons and is nine feet deep. The ocean currents of the North Pacific Gyre have trapped the plastic and polythene material floating in the deep sea. Research findings revealed that 60 to 90 percent of marine debris comprised of plastic and polythene. According to the scientific findings, ‘Santa Barbara’s National Centre for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis of the University of California (NCEAS)’, annually 8 million metric tons of plastic reach the oceans from around the world. Similarly the global consumption of plastic was estimated to reach over 297.5 million tons by the end of 2015.


These microscopic plastic and polythene pellets rich in toxic material are swallowed by the zooplanktons and protozoans who form the basis of the marine food chain and thus affect the whole food chain. All marine creatures from the largest to the microscopic organisms swallow the sea water soup comprised of toxic chemicals produced by plastic decomposition. According to the US Department of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, floating plastic debris in oceans kill 100,000 marine mammals such as whales, sea lions and millions of sea birds annually. Scientific research findings have revealed, numerous shapes of plastic and polythene fishing gear abandoned or lost in the oceans have crippled nearly 30,000 fur seals a year.

Sea birds die entangled in plastic and polythene fishing lines. In addition, both sea birds and marine mammals swallow plastics. Porpoises and whales on the other hand have been suffocated by plastic bags. In order to find out the causes of death of sea turtles and sea birds, scientists have conducted dissections and gathered large amounts of plastic in their intestines.

Land based sources have been identified as causing eighty percent of world’s marine pollution. A recent study on the decomposition of plastic has revealed that tons of plastic waste floating in the oceans decompose speedily at a lower temperature than earlier revealed, releasing toxic substances into sea water. It is estimated that 260 million tons of plastic are used annually by human beings mostly due to its versatile nature, light weight, flexibility and moisture resistance. Human beings across the world consume fish that had eaten other fish which had already eaten toxic saturated plastic and polythene entered into the marine food chain. Thus, the final victims are also the human beings who should be held responsible for polluting the marine environment.


The 2018 Budget recently suggested several initiatives to clean up our beaches and protect our marine environment. Finance Minister, Mangala Samaraweera in his Budget speech acknowledged that as our ocean bed was almost 26 times the size of our land mass, the government would promote a ‘Blue-Green’ Economy with a multi-pronged strategy with a focus on “building the institutional framework, harnessing the existing activities while diversifying to others without compromising its ecological balance”.

Accordingly it was proposed to allocate Rs. 25 million to have an Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) mechanism which will be developed with the participation of all stakeholders.

To stop the risk of erosion of the coastal belt and its pollution, it was proposed to allocate Rs. 400 million to initiate a project on Beach Replenishment from Mount Lavinia to Ratmalana which will then be expanded to create further investments, especially in Tourism and Fisheries industries.

An investment of Rs. 800 million will also be made to protect the coastal belt from Negombo to Marawila, which will include the erecting of stone hedges, cleaning and replanting mangroves.

“There are 116 lagoons and estuaries in the country. Lagoons have a unique eco system that must be safeguarded to support climate mitigation, resilient growth and conservation. As such, during 2018, the government will invest in 10 lagoons namely Negombo, Rekawa, Puttlam, Jaffna, Batticaloa, Nandikadal, Nayaru, Chilaw, Mundalam and Andikulama Lagoons a sum of Rs 1 billion. Such investment will be directed towards cleaning the lagoons, increasing the carrying capacity, supporting the existing livelihoods of fisherman besides Research and Development”, Minister Samaraweera further stated.

The government will also invest a sum of Rs. 250 million to assist hotels and other industries that dispose of their waste into the lagoons to invest in technology to ensure zero discharge of waste into the lagoons. 



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