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Ocean College

Ocean College: Plastic in Panama

The Ocean College students have continued their adventures to Panama but as our blogger Lisa reports, amid the beautiful scenery is a much less welcome sight — mountains of trash.

Plastic is a topic we have encountered often on our trip so far. But during the final two days of 2017, we all saw how much damage the waste we produce is doing to our surroundings.

On December 31, we were traveling through the San Blas Islands. We went to one of the small islands, where we slept on the beach and celebrated New Year's Eve. As we arrived with the dinghy, we could already see pieces of plastic lying around. I was in the last group that left the ship, so the others had plenty of time to explore. When I got there, one of them showed me a small clearing where the ground was covered with shards of glass. 

Before dinner we collected whatever waste we could find. We started a short distance from our camp and slowly worked our way back. Using a tarp we had originally brought with us to build tents, we carried bottles, wrappings, lost shoes, light bulbs and other paraphernalia from the beach and the bushes beside it to a fire we had built to burn the trash.

I even found pieces of a printer! After about an hour we had already collected around 50kg of material but honestly, I couldn't really detect a difference because there was still so much left lying around.

Ocean garbage dump

The day before, we had visited the inhabitants of another island. They showed us around and as we walked we saw mountains of trash lying in every corner that wasn't in use — trash in front of houses, along the paths — and nobody seemed to care or even notice.

Many of us started to take a closer look and we noticed there were big, beautiful mussels buried in these mountains of trash.

From there we continued on to Panama, where we went on a spontaneous boat safari with the dinghy along a nearby river. Among the reeds we encountered lots and lots more trash. It was really sad to find things like bicycles just dumped in such a beautiful place.

Later I talked about it with the owner of a restaurant, and he felt the same. He said most of the garbage comes from the ocean and is washed ashore on the islands and the mainland. But I think the fault lies a little bit with everyone — with the local inhabitants but also with every single one of us who doesn't do enough to protect our environment.

Lisa is one of the students taking part in the Ocean College voyage across the Atlantic and back.

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