A seagullbirds typically living on the coast (Möwe) is circling above you. You wrap yourself in a soft towel and look out at the sea. On the horizon, you spot oil rigsequipment to create holes in the earth to get to the oil (Bohrplattformen) which pump fossil fueloil made from decomposing (= zersetzten) plants and animals reserves from the bottom of North Sea to the surface. Big container ships are slowly moving past the towers. What are they loaded with? You don’t really want to know…
How the world’s oceans affect the fate of Denmark, Somalia, the Philippines and a plastic island [Guideline]
The beach is packed with tourists who toss their rubbish wherever they go, leaving trails of litter behind them. The fish in the sea are mostly gone. Same goes for the old fishermen. Despite the lack of fish, you can smell fish from the snack bar nearby and you notice your stomach starts rumbling.
A plastic bag flies past you. Someone must have dropped it. The wind is carrying it straight towards the sea.
You slowly walk along the beach. It is littered with plastic bags, Coca-Cola cans and old fishing nets.
In front of a particularly large pile of plastic, a group of white youths have stopped and are arguing loudly.
These kids are doing voluntary service abroad and think they are helping the residents here. They probably thought of sandy beaches and crystal clear-water when they chose the Philippines. Sometimes you wonder if they know that much of the waste they are looking at was produced in their home country and sent here.
You have other problems than the plastic waste in the sea.
In the last hurricane your parents’ house was destroyed, the remains are now floating somewhere on the water.
You came all the way here to help them… but you still haven’t found a job.
To fight the issue, a programme has been started: one bag of rubbish can be exchanged for one bag of rice.
Your family needs rice. You feel the stares of strangers on you and feel humiliated.
You have never forgotten the plastic bag you watched being swallowed by the water at your favourite beach. You often wondered what happened to it. Did it end up in the stomach of a turtle? At the bottom of the deep sea? In the eternal ice of the Arctic? Or is it now lying here on this beach?
You feel a little ashamed as you watch a woman start stuffing loads of plastic waste into a bag without gloves.
You have already been doing your voluntary service in the Philippines for three months. You haven’t been able to help the people much yet, but you have learned a lot yourself.
You are shocked by the use of plastic. At the everything is packed twice, for every drink you get a new disposable cup, for every purchase a new plastic bag. Sooner or later, the stuff ends up in the sea. In faraway Europe, the problem is just as serious, only less visible. Because Europeans are shipping their plastic waste here despite ever stricter regulations.
The coastal wind blows plastic waste from open dumps out to the sea…
You look through the microscope at the Petri dish. The reddish shimmering bacteria have multiplied rapidly. A feeling of elation rises in you. For thirty years you have searched every day for a solution to the plastic problem. Plastic can now be found on the most remote islands and inside the animals living in the deep sea.
You first studied chemistry and have since spent every day in the researching bacteria that can digest plastic. Finally, you see success.
For many species in the sea, your invention comes too late. But soon the beaches will be free of plastic, microplastics will be removed from sewage and the huge plastic whirlpools in the world’s oceans will have disappeared. The tourists will come back to the North Sea, the snack bars will open again, and you will be able to eat fish sandwiches and swim in clean seawater, just like in your childhood.
You look at the sea. On the horizon you rarely see the big fishing boats of the past. The North Sea has been fished out and the African countries refuse to give out licenses for their fishing grounds. Instead, a few new drilling rigs have been erected, pumping oil out of the seabed at even greater speed.
Everything seems the same as always, yet very different. It is quiet. You are no longer surrounded by laughing tourists, but by plastic rubbish: cigarette butts, plastic cups, crumpled cans. A lone seagull tugs at a sandwich in a ripped plastic wrapper. Horribly, you feel reminded of your volunteer service in the Philippines.
There, the plastic problem was solved through the efforts of authorities and residents. The rich countries had to take back their plastic waste. You have heard from your friends there that plastic packaging is now completely banned. People use plant-based packaging that completely decomposes after use.
We still consume far too much plastic here. Every day you find it harder to do without plastic. You can’t even eat fish sandwiches anymore because they are now also packed in plastic. For their shelf life.
The island lies in the North Pacific. It is several kilometers long and made of floating rubbish. When your house was destroyed by continuous flooding, you were able to save yourself by taking a lifeboat from Denmark to the island…
Someone calls your name.
“Emma!” says Richelle excitedly, coming towards you.
It is thanks to her that the Filipinos, who have lived on the island for a long time, have taken you in.
You have never forgotten Richelle since your volunteer service back then. Now you both have to spend your last days in small tents on a plastic island that is growing daily.
“It was decided to send an expedition to check the microplastic content in the water,” Richelle tells us. Since the islanders live off fishing and fish have become rare due to the polluted water, the community needs an underwater farm. “They’re still looking for someone to run it,” Richelle continues.
You heard that yesterday a ship was suddenly pulled into the depths by a whirl in the immediate vicinity of the island. That’s why no one wants to lead the expedition.
Your courage has paid off. The expedition was successful, and your new underwater farm is flourishing: The various species of mussels, algae and fish are multiplying at great speed. You work many hours every day to keep the farm going and have earned the respect of the islanders.
The farm yields enough to keep you going, even though you consume large amounts of microplastics contained in the sea life every day. Slowly, you regain hope. If you keep trying, you may soon have the money together to build a new life in Antarctica.
You put on your diving suit and look into the impenetrable water. Behind you are the rickety structures built on the plastic island. Although samples have shown a high concentration of microplastics in the water, the underwater farm was built because the supply of canned food was running low.
Ice-cold water hits you, for a moment your heartbeat stops. Working underwater makes you panic, but you have to join the community if you don’t want to starve.
The small fish around you watch you with innocent eyes. Nervously, you check the growth of the mussels and harvest some algae.
Something is bubbling under your feet.
The fish start moving. Something black shoots out from the depths of the sea.
You kick your legs, pushing upwards to get back to the surface.
In the next moment, an ice-cold, slippery noose wraps itself around your neck and pulls you unstoppably into the dark realm of the deep sea.
The last strip of the Danish coast has long disappeared. Soon you will reach the fish-rich coasts of Africa. You wonder if there will be clashes with the local fishermen again. In any case, you can’t be blamed, your fleet has duly bought fishing licenses from the EU.
You would rather have stayed in your home waters. In the past, you almost depleted the fish stocks. Now the politicians have taken action and you have had to look for alternative waters.
People love to eat fish sandwiches when they are at the North Sea. They don’t realise that with every snack they eat, they are eating away the lunch of a small fisherman in Africa or Southeast Asia.
This is not the only dark secret of industrial fishing. As captain of the fishing fleet, you don’t show it in front of the crew, but your heart bleeds every time you see masses of stingrays and turtles, sometimes also seabirds or dolphins, thrown back into the sea half-dead.
No one wants to eat fried turtles or dolphin breast. You stare at the water in frustration. You want to put an end to it all. But you know enough people who are just waiting to take your place and don’t share your scruples.
The salmon look greedily at you with dull eyes. You know this look very well. Bored, you press a button, and the daily load of shredded fish is poured into the huge aquarium. The fish pounce on the food, in a few minutes the water is clear again and the fish start staring at you again.
Your job on the fishing boat was more brutal, but significantly more exciting. Sometimes you regret that you loudly denounced the abuses in the fishing industry. You increasingly doubt whether you really did more harm in your old job than you are doing here.
You produce organic fish, but for 1 kilo of salmon you have to buy 4 kilos of small fish that were probably caught beforehand on the very boot you left behind. You also pump a lot of medicines and into the water. You find it unbelievable that the farm still gets an organic label.
Oskar told you about “aquaponics”. This technique combines fish farming with vegetable growing without using soil and apparently produces hardly any waste. You would love to try it out, but that would also mean not to do anything about the lax standards for sustainability labels in the industry.
The screech of seagulls wakes you from your nap. You stretch and search the sea for ships but today everything remains empty. Since a famous captain of a large fishing cutter denounced the abuses in the fishing industry, only a few shipping companies still dare to sail the seas despite worldwide criticism.
You pick up a few plastic bags lying around. It is spring – low season– and there are only a few tourists on the beach, but there is still rubbish lying around that can be devoured by the sea at any time.
“We now offer fish from aquaponics farming,” the snack bar owner proudly announces. Aquaponics is super popular and has spread throughout Denmark as a successful business model. The new fish sandwich is a little more expensive, but with this fish you are not harming the environment or other people.
At that moment, the seagull swoops down from the sky, snatches the roll from your hand and takes off with the fish in its beak. It lets out a triumphant screech.
The screech of the seagulls wakes you from your nap. You stretch and search the sea for ships. But today everything remains empty. Since a famous captain of a large fishing cutter denounced the abuses in the fishing industry, only a few shipping companies still dare to sail the seas despite the worldwide criticism.
You pick up a few plastic bags lying around. It is spring – low season – and there are only a few tourists on the beach, but there is still rubbish lying around that can be devoured by the sea at any time.
For a few weeks now, the snack bar has only been offering fish that has a special sustainability label. This label is the legacy of the captain. Since he disappeared under mysterious circumstances during negotiations with the fishing industry, he has become Denmark’s new national hero.
The fish roll costs more than twice as much as before, but at last you are sure that you are not harming the environment or other people with this fish.
Just then, the seagull swoops down from the sky, snatches the roll from your hand and takes off with the fish in its beak. It lets out a triumphant screech.
Disappointed, you pull the small empty boat onto the beach. Since the big fish trawlers from the north have been cruising around off the coast of Somalia, there are hardly any fish left. Yet, the people here have lived from fishing since time immemorial. No fish means having nothing to eat.
The owners of the fishing boats don’t care. Some wave papers in your face to prove that they are allowed to fish here. Others don’t bother at all. They simply leave without a word after they have caught their fish.
You don’t stand a chance against them.
Some of your friends have already been rammed and drowned….
You hear the waves crashing against the rocks. Somehow you have to find a way to provide for your family.
When you finally have the in your hands, you suddenly feel incredibly tired. It was extremely difficult to bring the illegal deep-sea trawlers that robbed Somali fishermen of their food to justice. Some are sailing under false flags, in the case of others, the states have refused to take responsibility for the ships or have denied everything.
Finally, justice has been served. The operators of the illegal fishing boats will be in prison for a long time and will have to pay for your suffering. But for the fishermen of Somalia, the verdict comes too late.
Years of practices by giant fishing boats, climate change, rising sea levels that have made entire coastlines, plus all the plastic off Somalia’s shores – it was all too much. Now there is not a single fisherman left on Africa’s east coast.
There’s a famine in your old home, while people in your new home of Denmark are still eating fish sandwiches.
You sit alone in your wooden boat and let yourself drift with the waves. The further away from the coast, the better. You are not afraid of the pirates, after all, you were one yourself until a few weeks ago. Now there are no more pirate ships off the coast of Somalia.
No pirate ships because no fishing boats. No fishing boats because no fish. Something brushes the bow of the boat. An animal?
It’s just a dead piece of plastic. You bury your face in your hands in despair.
You haven’t eaten for days. You don’t dare go home because you can’t face your children empty-handed. You feel old and tired. Hopeless.
Do you really want to cancel this story?
Your current progress will be lost.