Plastic Sand

Greentings Everyone!

The Volcanic islands of Azores are a largely untouched corner of the planet located midway between Continental Europe and the Americas. This Archipelago of 9 islands is so secluded that it is home to a mere 367,823 souls, of which one third are cows. Mind you, I have not taken into consideration the countless others who visit these islands throughout the year, whether it be various whale species such as sperm whales, sei whales, pilot whales, mink whales or dolphin species such as the common dolphin, bottlenose dolphin, Atlantic spotted dolphin, striped dolphin and Risso’s dolphin. All these beings, along with the unique flora species and many other fauna — too many to name here, form the ecosystem of the Azores that we know today. All these beings have been invited to the party that we call the Azores…unfortunately during a casual stroll around the island of Faial — one of the 9 islands of the Azores, we came across one being that stood out like a sore thumb!

The island of Faial can easily be described in three words, Heaven on Earth and/or Volcanic Green Oasis (when in doubt, use both). A green that contrasts so beautifully with the vast blue of the Atlantic which surrounds it. A green that covers the entire island, from the grazing fields bustling with cows to the laurel forests dating back to a few years after the islands birth. A birth that occurred from a series of volcanic eruptions that transformed the island into what we see today. The geological magnificence of this island truly puts into perspective the smallness of our human existence. Nestled in between these lush green volcanic hills and the vast ocean blue is the city of Horta and more specifically the Beach of Porto Pim. If your mind has wandered off to one of those beaches that we usually see on advertisements for the Maldives or Bora Bora, I don’t blame you. This would in fact be what you would expect from an island so secluded and with such limited human interaction—for today’s standards. To be fair, we did not expect the white sandy beaches that we are accustomed to on our trips to islands in the tropics…it is a volcanic island in the Atlantic and therefore black lava fragments—which can be called black sand, are the norm.

Anyways, getting back to the nice casual stroll and our encounter with the Beach of Porto Pim which is nicely tucked in between volcanic cliffs and the ocean. Nice stroll and nicely tucked in between…probably the last time I will be using the adjective nice in this segment, as it is not a sound description of what we came across on this black sand beach. From the edge of the ocean all the way to the inland areas, as far as the eye could see, we came across tiny fragments adorning— almost as if intentionally, the beach from coast to coast. To the untrained eye, I must admit they looked like thousands of colorful gemstones which had blessed us with their presence. I crouched down for a better look and to investigate these mysterious fragments. I grabbed some and moved them in between my fingertips. Whilst my brain processed what I was touching and seeing, my girlfriend broke the silence with a shout that to this day still sends a shiver down my spine…Microplastics!

Microplastics of various shapes, sizes, colors and tones, no longer adorning the beach, but littering it. These invasive species — who are here to stay unfortunately, covered the entire beach! Speechless with what I had just witnessed and for lack of a better way to describe just how covered the beach was, here is a photo. As they say a picture is worth more than a thousand words…

Around 1,400km’s from Continental Europe and another 1,900km’s from the Americas, a sandy beach…

This is in no shape or form representative of positive image that I have of the Azores. It continues to be a fantastic destination, where nature has continued its due course, mapping out bewildering sceneries which are unique to these islands— and to each individual island. I will continue to recommend that everyone come and visit at least once in their lives. Please however always visit with one thought in mind, leave every environment you go into better than you found it.

I have written this piece to highlight just how dire the situation is and that drastic steps must be taken to avoid the worst. A fortnight after the rather uneventful and disappointing end to COP26, this thought must continue to take center stage in our lives, for a sustainable future which we can be proud to leave for the next generations! Generation Clean!

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