Millions of Dollars Needed to Clean Up Aldabra Atoll

Following a five-week clean-up on Aldabra Atoll, one of Seychelles’ UNESCO World Heritage Site, where 25 tonnes of marine plastic litter was removed, researchers at Oxford University have estimated that the cost to clean up the entire island is approximately $4.68 million, requiring 18,000 person‐hours of labor.

This is the largest accumulation of plastic waste reported for any single island in the world.

Their projected costs and recommendations are published in Nature Scientific Reportsand it is the first time that the financial cost for removing the waste has been calculated.

Small island developing states receive unprecedented amounts of the world’s plastic waste. In March 2019, a team from the University of Oxford and Seychelles Islands Foundation, a public trust which manages Aldabra, removed 5 percent of litter washed up on Aldabra’s shores in a five-week mission. The researchers now estimate that 513 tonnes remain on the island, dominated by waste from regional fishing–buoys, ropes, nets–and 360,000 individual flip-flops.

Removing the plastic waste equates to $10,000 per day of cleanup operations or $8,900 per tonne of litter —well beyond the capacity of nonprofit organizations like the Seychelles Islands Foundation.

Aldabra is an iconic site, described by Sir David Attenborough as one of the world’s last remaining natural treasures. It has remained relatively pristine and is home to an array of incredible wildlife.

Dr. Lindsay Turnbull, co-author of the study, said: “Our research spells out the unfairness and inequality whereby small island states and islands like Aldabra are paying the bill, both ecologically and financially for actions–or the lack of them–taken elsewhere.

“As with the climate crisis, small island states are at the frontline in dealing with the impacts of actions in which they played very little part. It is time this inequality was addressed with direct financial assistance to rectify and ameliorate these threats.”

The project demonstrates the importance of collaboration, especially international cooperation beyond one organization.

Largely in response to this cleanup and other similar efforts by local conservation organizations, the Seychelles government decided to accede to the remaining MARPOL annexes in 2019; most importantly, it acceded to Annex V- Prevention of Pollution by Garbage from Ships.

The scientists are continuing their data collection on litter accumulation rates and other aspects of the impact of plastics to Aldabra’s ecosystems. There is still 500 tonnes of litter to remove from Aldabra.

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