May 2: Beating the plastic plague
Floating debris forms an ever increasing plague for life at sea and a nuisance at the beaches. The mayor of Ameland, Albert de Hoop, strives for strict measures for fastening sea containers aboard sea ships.

Albert de Hoop

Beachcombing is a fine tradition at the Wadden islands. In earlier days, a stranded freight carrier beaten into flotsam was seen as a welcome relief from the sober and poor life at the islands. Crates with whiskey, cigarets and rations for the ship's crew were regarded as a god-given supplement to the meager daily menus.
But nowadays, it's mostly industrial flotsam that drifts ashore. The museum at Buren (Ameland) shows the highlights of the harvest: dozens of cheap plastic telephones, sporting bags, sport shoes, medicine bottles, plastic floaters and fishing nets.

KIMO, a Danish initiative among coastal communities concerned about the environment, has set up several measures to beat the plastic plague. For example, it provides fishing vessels with large bags in which they collect the plastics that ends up in their net, in stead of putting it over board only to be fished up by their colleagues. Fishing for Litter, the project is called.
At the shores of Ameland, three veteran beach combers cruise the beaches on a daily basis to collect the plastic rubbish that washed ashore. In all, it amounts to 120 tonnes per year.
The plastic, like that from the fishing vessels, is collected and recycled.
But Ameland's mayor Albert de Hoop, who is also KIMO's director, pleads for further measures. He wants the European Union to install binding rules concerning the fastening of sea containers onto the decks of freight carriers.
“The containers are automatically fastened by four giant screws at the corners. But more often than not, these are damaged and don't work too well. It all works automatically – no one checks the fastenings. If only two scres hold properly and eight containers are put on top, one can't be amazed when they topple in heavy seas”, De Hoop argues.
This, alas, is not an exceptional event. On the transport route north of the Wadden islands some 150 containers go over board each year. Worldwide, estimates are that 10 thousand containers a year get lost.
Apart from being a danger to navigation, the environmental impact may be very serious as well. “Containers on deck are either empty, or they transport dangerous chemicals”, says De Hoop.
Enough reasons for De Hoop and KIMO to insist on what outsiders always took for granted: that containers are well fastened before a ship is allowed to take to sea.