Dear South Africa: I love you, but…

Dear South Africa,

I love your people. I don’t ever recall feeling so genuinely received anywhere more than here in South Africa. Smiles, so warm, gentle and inviting.

I love your wildlife. The diversity of magnificent animals and the enchanting calls of birds opens my heart to the richness of life.

And your flora. Brilliant. Vibrant. Lush.

I love your coastlines. Alluring. Rugged. Windswept seas of marine green. Kelp beds, dolphins, whales. You have so much.

I love your culture, the philosophy of Ubuntu or human-ness. That belief that all humans are all connected.  So beautiful.

Dear, dear, South Africa. There’s so much I love about your country, but…

the litter, the plastic pollution, that I see everywhere we go from the mountains to the seas, in rural wilderness and in your cities, it casts a painful and unsightly shadow across your beauty. It is a problem. And if you truly want to sell yourself to the world as a place of eco-tourism, you are, sadly, coming up short.

South Africa, your litter problem is not only appalling, but you are harming the very land you want visitors to enjoy. These beautiful mountains and waters and all the animals who need health not plastic toxicity. They need you.

I am compelled to unleash my concern on this issue. After visiting about a dozen beaches here in South Africa, I was most motivated to write this post after visiting Jeffrey’s Bay. Despite those many littered beaches we’ve seen, I had higher expectations for Jeffrey’s Bay. It is, after all, one of the top ten surfing destinations in the world. I had higher expectations of Jeffrey’s Bay, because I have higher expectations of a surfing community; surfers who get so much from the ocean (and usually or used to give back to it) and businesses that make a living from the sea shore. From the looks of things, it’s fairly obvious that not much of anything is being done to clean up the beaches here despite all those who benefit from it – surfers, businesses, beach-goers, fisherman. Quite the opposite seemingly. Plastic bags, plastic food wrappers, styrofoam, bottles, cans, and cigarette butts everywhere. Fishing gear, nets, hooks. Does Surfrider not have a presence in Jeffrey’s Bay? Are people here too unconscious or apathetic to do their part in stopping the destruction of a beach of such extraordinary beauty?  I simply had higher expectations from a surfing community, especially one of such reputable significance. I am disappointed.

What seems to be an endless beach at Jeffrey’s Bay

Jeffrey's Bay

Here we are at Jeffrey’s Bay! I’m stepping in the Indian Ocean – happy.

Looks beautiful, yes?

Birds are flying, the sky is blue. Looking up, it’s the perfect little beach town.

Scott and I made a visit to Jeffrey’s Bay to relish in what we expected to be a magical spot. And from a distance, it was magical. Crystal blue waters rolling onto white powdery beaches. The mistake we made was to walk on that powdery sand, to feel the Indian Ocean. In less than 15 minutes, instead of enjoying the beach and the water, we had fists full of garbage. I find it very difficult to enjoy a beach that is trashed.

Litter at Jeffrey's bay

Then I looked down. Ugh…barely walked 10 steps before happening upon this…and this little yellow plastic was a speck compared to what we found.

Jennifer at Jeffrey's Bay

Jennifer at Jeffrey’s Bay

I came across a woman, Jennifer, who works for the municipality cleaning up on the weekends. We talked for some time. She shared her own concern about the amount of trash she finds on the beach and the lack of communication on the matter. Jennifer didn’t know that cigarette butts are harmful to marine life. This was very telling to me, because we find and pick up cigarette butts everywhere we go. I am not exaggerating – it is everywhere. Worse on the beaches than anywhere I’ve ever been. But it’s everywhere.

If the woman who works for the municipality didn’t know that cigarette butts don’t biodegrade and instead end up in the ocean ultimately in the bellies of marine animals, then I suspect all the folks dropping their butts are also in the dark. I am not judging. For some reason, this information is not universal public knowledge. Hopefully this post will help in some way. So, to everyone who throws their butts on the ground, FYI, unless you’re smoking filterless cigarettes, you are causing harm to the environment every time you leave a butt on the ground. No matter where you are, it all ends up in the earth leeching chemicals and usually in the water, be it a river, a stream or the ocean potentially killing marine life. Please, get your butts off the beach.

But the butts are barely scratching the surface of this issue. Plastic, plastic of all types from wrappers to bottles to Styrofoam to bags bags bags. Do any offenders ever question where it goes? Do they think the land and seas magically clean it up? Do they care? Ocean health is correlated to human activity. Marine animals are dying. Why aren’t we humans getting that? Why can’t we keep our self-destructive tendencies to ourselves? What does it take to make people care?

Litter at Jeffrey's bay

This is NOT what I consider to be a chill day at the beach. Sad.

Below are litter photos taken in less than a 24-hour time period from Mossel Bay to Addo. I’ve taken litter photos throughout South Africa from Kruger National Park to Addo National Park and in between.

Mossel Bay litter greenest community?

Mossel Bay on promenade in front of beach – Greenest Municipality 2013

plastic bags south africa

I count dozens of plastic bags in a single day – mostly in trees

garden route litter

Supposedly on the GARDEN route – more like the GARBAGE route

Motherwell South Africa litter

The town of Motherwell. A sad irony.

litter South Africa litter south africa

Driving to Addo National Park

Driving to Addo National Park

Addo

Addo

Addo National Park

Addo National Park – a dung beetle and cigarette butts (two of many) were on the ground right outside the reception area. We saw much of the same at the various viewing areas.

Addo National Park litter

Addo National Park -one small 12 inch space at a viewing area.

Addo National Park litter

Addo National Park – along the side of the road of this sacred place

So, dear South Africa. You have some work ahead of you. Starting with a massive cleanup then rubbish and recycle bins (with lids) onto education and then moving onward from there to community support programs and ultimately enforcement if the more proactive approaches are unsuccessful. Scott had a good suggestion of establishing a Sister City with Santa Cruz. We still experience litter there but locals come out in force after big holiday weekends to take the responsibility of keeping their treasured beaches clean.

Please act. I want to only say positive things about your wonderful country, but a moral dilemma and an earth obligation are preventing me from doing that. Please, if you don’t do it for all the animals who are suffering from your negligence, do it for your economy. If others see it like I do, they will feel heart-sick. I don’t know anyone who intentionally plans a beach holiday to a place that was once beautiful but is now a sandy trash bin.

Dear South Africa, if your people truly practice the philosophy of Ubuntu, then they above all others would know that it’s not just we humans who are connected to one another, but we are connected to all of earth’s beings and to the very earth that continues to provide for us despite the abuses we thrust upon her. Please, dear South Africa, I implore you. Be the example for all the other countries who struggle with this same issue. Help your people help make things better.

With genuine and loving concern,

Kenda Swartz Pepper

PS: I see this as a universal issue. During the last 10 years we’ve visited beaches in Belize, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, California, Florida, Costa Rica, England, France, Italy, Portugal, Mexico and South Africa. I have hundreds if not thousands of plastic pollution photos from many of these places. I’ve seen beaches in Mexico (from Puerto Vallarta to Veracruz) and Italy (this was a big surprise to me – all along the Adriatic and Mediterranean coasts) that are much more trashed than Jeffrey’s Bay.

My question to the readers:
Does there exist anywhere in the world a truly clean beach? And I mean truly clean where you can walk on it from end to end without seeing rubbish including those annoying little pieces of plastic.
Does such a thing even exist anymore?
Please write in. I really want to know. I’d like to see it.

Leave only a footprint

Leave only a footprint

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sooner or later, we will have to recognise that the Earth has rights, too, to live without pollution. What mankind must know is that human beings cannot live without Mother Earth, but the planet can live without humans.
~Evo Morales

Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.
~Jacques-Yves Cousteau

Because normal human activity is worse for nature than the greatest nuclear accident in history.
~Martin Cruz Smith

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Photos, videos and stuff*** Please contact me for permission to use images and text for commercial or private use. And please do follow this blog and/or write comments. A million five-hundred thanks.

Check out the other South Africa posts below:

South Africa Post #1: Our first Kruger National Park Safari
South Africa Post #2: Babysitting a Banded Mongoose Pup in Marloth Park
South Africa Post #3: When Zebras Visit
South Africa Post #4: Daily Living in Marloth Park, South Africa
South Africa Post #5: Kruger Restcamps: Skukuza, Satara and Olifants
South Africa Post #6: Kruger Safari: Full Moon over Letaba
South Africa Post #7: Kruger Safari: Treasure Hunting in Tamboti and Lower Sabie
South Africa Post #8: There’s a Mongoose in my Ear!
South Africa Post #9: Peering through God’s Window at Blyde River Canyon
South Africa Post #10: The Dam Boat Tour at Blyde River Canyon
South Africa Post #11: Rare Sexual Encounters of South Africa
South Africa Post #12: To the Wildlife of Marloth Park
South Africa Post #13: Nelspruit to Cape Town
South Africa Post #14: Moved to Tears on Freedom Day
South Africa Post #15: Penguins in South Africa?
South Africa Post #16: The Southernmost Tip of Africa
South Africa Post #17Birds of Eden at Plettenberg Bay
This is South Africa Post #18: Dear South Africa: I love you, but…
South Africa Post #19: Elephants at Addo National Park 
South Africa Post #20The Garden Route: Nature’s Valley and Wilderness
South Africa Post #21: Endangered Bontebok
South Africa Post #22Top Five Cape Town Experiences
South Africa Post #23Chasing Rainbows in South Africa
South Africa Post #24Vegan Wanderlust in South Africa
South Africa Post #25Ubuntu

19 Comments:

  1. Anne-Marie Suddreth

    Heartbreaking. The earth is struggling in so many places. Thank you for this insight, Kenda. xoxoxo

  2. I don’t think I’v ever seen anything that bad ….so sad!
    The beach where Tina goes is pretty clean….at least i don’t
    remember seeing trash!
    Thanks for sharing!
    Love you both!

    • kendaswartz@gmail.com

      Unfortunately almost all the beaches we visited in Mexico, were that bad or worse. And, you’ll be bummed to see this, we saw some trashed beaches in Italy including Vieste. From 1991 to 2011 Vieste became a trash dump. Very sad. I’d be curious to know if the beach where Tina goes is really clean. I think it’s pretty common to overlook some of the little pieces of litter – the butts, the small broken down pieces of plastic. I’m no longer able to overlook that stuff. 🙁 love you!

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