White-sand beach, turquoise waters and plastic waste from a thousand kilometers away

On the island of San Cristobal in the Galapagos is Puerto Chino, a pristine white-sand beach with turquoise waters and surrounded by mangroves. According to our naturalist guide, the name Puerto Chino or Chinese port came from the locals who mistook the Japanese sailors for Chinese due to their slanted eyes. The sailors used the beach as a port to trade goods with the locals. Now whether this is true or not remains to be proven as my mom couldn’t find any official reference online. But it sure is a good story.

The white-sand beach of Puerto Chino with turquoise waters and surrounded by mangroves

Locals (and tourists alike) love going to Puerto Chino to swim, snorkel or have a picnic. It is one of the few beaches in the Galapagos that is accessible to the public without a certified Galapagos naturalist or guide. Remember that 97% of the archipelago is a national park so you just can’t go wherever you want to by yourself. At the beach are sometimes sea lions, though we didn’t see any, and the cliffs around are resting areas for sea birds such as blue-footed boobies, which we also didn’t see.

But what we did see was plastic! Unfortunately, the western area of the Galapagos, where the island of San Cristobal lies, is prone to plastic debris drifting all the way from mainland Ecuador (1,000 km away) and the rest of South America. It is a major problem not only for the marine life but also for the coastal zones.

This plastic bottle was already growing barnacles. Based on its label, it drifted all the way from Peru.

As we were in Puerto Chino, not to sunbathe but for the view and the wildlife, we decided to remove some plastic waste from the beach. One of the plastic bottles even already had barnacles growing on it. Based on its label, it drifted all the way from Peru. I was shocked!

I also learned a lot about microplastics (plastic fragments less than five millimeters in length). They include microfibers from synthetic fabrics, microbeads, plastic pellets and other types of plastic from the degradation of larger plastic products. Microplastics have adverse effects on marine species, on ecosystems and eventually, on humans.

The Galapagos National Park regularly schedules coastal clean-ups but with the constant increase of plastic pollution from mainland South America, even more frequent clean-ups are needed. More importantly, we need to be more mindful of our plastic waste. That plastic bottle that we forgot on the beach or dropped somewhere could easily end up thousands of kilometers away.

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