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As plastic talks wrap up in Canada, fishers in Indonesia count the costs

Mongabay - May 8, 2024

Falahi Mubarok, Yogi Eka Sahputra, Pulau Seribu, Indonesia – Mustaghfirin unmoors his boat every day in the Thousand Islands archipelago, two hours' sailing from the Jakarta coast, and sets off into a sea filled with garbage.

"This plastic waste is extremely annoying," Mustaghfirin told Mongabay Indonesia in April. "The motor we use to propel the boat is small, so it often gets jammed."

In 1950, global production of plastic amounted to around 2 million metric tons per year.

By 2019, the world produced more than 450 million metric tons, according to production figures compiled by Our World in Data at the University of Oxford in the U.K. In just the last two decades, production of these polymer resins has doubled, the data show.

In coastal low- and middle-income countries like Indonesia and the Philippines, a large share of throwaway plastic flows down rivers and out to sea, where it asphyxiates, ensnares and poisons an array of marine life.

On average, 53-year-old Mustaghfirin, a resident of Pari Island in this archipelago about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northwest of the Indonesian capital, will have to stop fishing for two days every week to work on the engine, mostly untangling old plastic waste obstructing the propeller. Recently the boat's engine overheated and broke down after hitting a mine of plastic, leaving Mustaghfirin stranded.

Mustaghfirin is also catching fewer fish, missing out on what he estimates is up to 2 million rupiah ($125) of revenue per day.

Tono, another Pari Island fisherman, said he's now catching just a quarter of the 20 kilograms (44 pounds) that he used to be able to get daily. He also recently had to spend 3 million rupiah ($190) fixing his boat because of plastic debris – an amount that represents more than a week's earnings for Tono.

Fishers like Tono say plastic waste is hitting their cost of living simultaneous to other pressures, such as depleted fishing grounds and more frequent extreme weather events. Tono earns less money than a decade ago, even without one-off events such as storms caused by La Nina climate patterns.

"In that case, the losses that I incur could be double," he said.

International talks

"Plastic waste is now found in the most remote areas of the planet," Antonio Guterres, the U.N. secretary-general, said in 2018. "It kills marine life and is doing major harm to communities that depend on fishing and tourism."

However, international efforts to arrest the growth in plastics littering the oceans have yet to produce an agreement.

The fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) on plastic pollution took place in Ottawa, Canada, from April 23-29. Convened under the U.N. Environment Programme, the committee aims to seal an international, legally binding instrument on plastics.

Jyoti Mathur-Filipp, executive secretary of the INC Secretariat, expressed optimism that a binding text could be agreed at the INC's fifth session in Busan, South Korea, in November this year.

"Members should arrive in Busan ready to deliver on their mandate and agree a final text of the instrument," Mathur-Filipp said.

Up to 90% of garbage in the oceans that harms fishing communities is made from plastic, according to Devi Dwiyanti Suryono, who researches water sources at Indonesia's national research agency, commonly known by its acronym BRIN.

"This garbage also damages mangrove ecosystems," Devi told Mongabay Indonesia, adding that plastic undermines mangroves as breeding grounds for fish and shellfish, which threatens food security.

However, tackling the plastic problem is complicated by Indonesia's decentralized political framework, which requires local authorities in multiple constituencies to pool together to respond to transboundary problems created by market forces.

In February, Mongabay Indonesia reported from the riverside city of Bogor, located just south of Jakarta, where the local government has joined an international plastics initiative and hired community outreach workers, while working to scale up Bogor's waste management services.

"The government or one party alone cannot manage this waste," said Een Irawan Putra, head of a Bogor government task force overseeing cleanup of the Ciliwung River. "We need other parties to work together to create the best solution."

Asep Kuswantoro, head of the Jakarta environment department, said authorities in the capital had constructed canal barriers, and would soon erect more at river mouths to prevent waste ending up in the Thousand Islands.

"Waste processing in the Thousand Islands has been constructed," Asep told Mongabay Indonesia in a written response to questions, adding that waste management centers on Sabira and Tidung islands were already processing garbage.

This year the Jakarta government will build an additional facility on Panggang Island, Asep said, while in the following fiscal year authorities hope to begin work on new waste management centers on Kelapa and Harapan islands.

"Every day, our officers collect an average of 700 kilos [1,500 lbs] of trash from the area," Lukman Dermanto, head of waste management for the Thousands Islands district government, said in a statement.

Lukman pointed to the beach at Marunda Kepu on the Jakarta mainland, which marks the city's border with the province of West Java. It also marks the point where the Bekasi River meets the sea, dumping a torrent of plastic into the bay north of Jakarta.

"Currently, the main obstacle in efforts to manage garbage in Marunda Kepu is waste carried by currents from the Bekasi River estuary, which is mixed with mud sediment. It's making the cleanup process difficult," Lukman said.

Jakarta environment department spokesperson Yogi Ikhwan said more than 200 officers were to be deployed on May 1 to retrieve garbage from the Jakarta coastline.

"We hope that with the hard work of our officers and the support of the community, Marunda Kepu Beach and the entire coastal area of Jakarta can be free from rubbish," Yogi said.

On Pari Island, fishing boats with faded paint sidle against their moorings in the breeze, as the tide laps against beaches obscured by plastic. Fishers comb through their nets to remove ribbons of plastic. Plastic bags and plastic bottles squat on Pari's beaches.

The flotilla of plastic polluting the waters north of Jakarta has forced Mustaghfirin to seek out an alternative haven to catch fish. In the past, a day's sailing might net around 100 kg (220 lbs), but no more.

"If there is garbage, then at most you can get 15-25 kilos [33-55 lbs] of fish," he said. "And sometimes you don't even get any fish at all."

Source: https://news.mongabay.com/2024/05/as-plastic-talks-wrap-up-in-canada-fishers-in-indonesia-count-the-costs