In mid June, the MV X-Press Pearl, a cargo ship laden with chemicals, ran into trouble off the Western Province. The ship blazed for days, leaving in its wake an environmental disaster that will affect Sri Lanka for years to come.
Although the fires have now been put out, the ship has lost many of its containers to the sea, including highly toxic chemicals and billions of tiny plastic pellets, or nurdles, which are killing marine life and devastating the beaches along the island. Tons of plastic nurdles have already washed up on local beaches, along with dead fish, dolphins and sea turtles.
Anyone who has felt the soft, pristine sand of Sri Lanka’s beaches between their toes will understand the horror felt by the island’s population and the shocking effects this disaster will have on fishermen and local communities who rely on the sea for their livelihoods.
The disaster has touched all in Sri Lanka, and Mitra’s own Sherine Bandara was moved to do what she could to help. She says “Like many other disasters and crises Sri Lanka has faced, volunteers, non profit organisations, and communities have come together to clean, donate, and look after people and places that are affected. This time our beautiful oceans are screaming for our help, our fishing communities are starving and our helpless marine life needs to be saved.”
Sherine was not alone, as she explains “ One youth-led marine conservation organisation in Sri Lanka called ‘Pearl Protectors‘ has stepped up, spreading awareness and kick-starting effective campaigns.”
The Pearl Protectors launched the ‘Nurdle Free Lanka’ campaign with the objective being to remove all plastic nurdles from the shorelines of Sri Lanka by hand, mobilizing volunteers and utilising sieving tools. They will also conduct shoreline pellet pollution variation surveys to keep track of the path of this tiny menace. The campaign will initially continue for three months within the limits of Western Province.
Sherine, and her friend Tiara, became part of the planning group at Pearl Protectors and as such, took the call for help to the leadership team at Mitra. Mitra have responded by becoming major sponsors of clean up equipment, and Mitra staff have volunteered to help cleanse the beaches of the nurdle blight.
While time will bring compensation for the disaster from the Singapore based X-Press Pearl and their insurers, time is not on the side of the environment and the swift response by highly motivated individuals like Sherine, communities, conservation groups and companies like Mitra, shine a light in a fragile world.