By Mark Bradbury
This month’s issue addresses environmental ocean conditions here on the Ecuadorian Coast. It is a big ocean that welcomes us all, but she constantly needs our help. For me, coming to Ecuador meant being able to live near the Pacific Ocean, and I have been living my dream since I arrived over six years ago. She is something I stare at every day of my seven-day week, and I love it! But there are things that we all need to address.
The world’s oceans receive the debris of the people who live on land. They are the garbage collectors for so many countries who do not care where their sewage and trash go, and it has been catching up with us all over the years. The world has looked the other way for centuries, millenniums actually, but now we all need to take a harder look at what we have allowed to happen.
Most of you who are reading this are aware that there are floating islands of plastic trash in various parts of the world; this has been well-documented for quite a few years. But one of the biggest lives here in the Pacific Ocean, moved around by the prevailing currents and winds, and that could end up here in Ecuador someday. Imagine the Galapagos Islands choking with plastic debris everywhere; birds, turtles, iguanas and all the other endemic species dying on the beaches because they are ingesting plastic. Not a pretty vision!
Ecuador has been caught in the throes of a La Niña phenomena this winter. We have been experiencing heavy rains throughout the country. Seeing photos and videos of rivers overflowing their banks, taking homes, people, cars, and anything else in their way with them has been far too common. Landslides and floods throughout the Sierras have killed over forty people this year and have closed several highways necessary for movement in the cities of the Andes.
We have had more than our share along the Coast, also. We have experienced the wettest season that I have seen in my time in Ecuador. Very heavy rain, along with thunder and lightning, has become quite common, and several places have had incidences of flooding in low areas. I am fortunate to be living on a hill, high above the beach and the rivers, but others have not been as lucky.
I said earlier that the ocean receives the detritus of the world, and that is a sad truth. Trash that goes into a dry riverbed ends up on the beaches when the heavy rains come and wash everything out to sea. We are seeing this sort of activity along our Coast lately, and it is disgusting!
When it rains in the mountains, the water looks for the lowest level, and that means the rivers that lead to the Amazon in the east, and to the Pacific, in the west. The heavy rains flood the upland areas and move downhill, carrying everything in their path. By the time they reach the Ocean here in Manabí, they have collected all sorts of things!
I have heard stories of dead cows, burros, dogs, and other things washing up at the river mouths. Mother Nature is not kind to anyone or anything that challenges her natural order, that is a fact. There is so much debris showing up on the beaches near the rivers that it is staggering! But most of it is natural; trees, plants, wood, and things like that.
What does not belong in these debris fields is plastic, and there is plenty of that! The custom for many years has been to throw the trash in the dry riverbed and let the rains wash it away. That was the plan! But that needs to stop!
Manta Mayor Agustin Intriago Quijano is one of the people standing up to this age-old practice. He is trying to change the way the people of Manta act, and how they respond could change the way Manta looks in the near future. He and his administration have been targeting the trash dumpers, both commercial and private, that use the riverbeds of Manta’s three rivers as their personal dump.
They are monitoring well-known areas that are susceptible to the dumpers and are arresting and fining the culprits. They have cameras all over the canton that can spot this illegal activity, and they have shown that they will prosecute the offenders.
They have also instituted a program of beach cleanings that are staffed by local volunteers. These are called “mingas,” and are held periodically on all the city beaches. There is also a cleaning staff made up of people who clean the beaches daily, part of a city workforce. Unfortunately, all this is just a band aid until the bigger picture comes into play.
In my opinion, Ecuador needs a national program to eliminate littering and wholesale dumping of trash in its rivers. This needs to be a strong mandate, with severe penalties for those guilty of doing so. This must start at the top, like the rains that bring our Coast its trash. President Lasso needs to step up and implement something that will change the way things are done here in this regard. Cleaning the beaches when the rainy season comes is like washing your floor when your roof is caving in!
Many of you who are older will remember the American beautification programs to stop littering back in the sixties, under the direction of President Johnson’s wife, Lady Bird Johnson. One of my most powerful memories of that period was the television ad depicting a Native American chief crying because the earth was littered with trash. It was a very moving testimonial to man's abuse of nature.
That is the sort of program that Ecuador needs to implement. Ecuador, with its “Four Worlds,” is one of the most special places on Earth, and we need to do everything possible to correct the injustices done to its environment. The government needs to address this issue, and the people of Ecuador need to get behind it and support it the way they do their fútbol team! With strength and pride for Ecuador!
The Manabí Coast has over 200 miles of coastline, and I do not want readers to think that every inch of it has been overwhelmed with debris. The major problem areas have been with the main rivers going through the area, and in the beach area that they empty into. Here in Manta, that includes the Burro River, the Dead River, and the Manta River, but the City of Manta has done an exceptionally good job of containing the problem by cleaning the river beds before it rains.
The Portoviejo River and its tributaries have brought tons of debris to the area known as La Boca (the river mouth), which separates Crucita and the beaches to the north. The tides have been moving much of the flotsam out to sea, including the plastics.
The Chone River, which meets the ocean at Bahía de Caráquez and San Vicente, is another that has gifted the Bay with heavy debris. The tide has been moving much of this out, also.
A word of caution to any of you going to the beach. Be careful of floating debris in the water, especially in the areas mentioned above. Most of this will be gone by the time the magazine comes out on April 15th, but it will still be a problem in the future until it is dealt with by the government. The next heavy rains, whenever they come, will continue the cycle, and that cycle needs to stop.
Manabí has so many beautiful beaches! Go out and enjoy them! This is not meant to scare you away; it is just a bell being rung.