by Rahul Muralidharan
The sun was supposed to rise at 6:30 am.
But that day it did; fifteen minutes later.
At the break of dawn, a narrow strip of sunlight raced
through the sea surface reaching the shore.
And voila! A group of dolphins traveled along the coast.
stranded dolphin (Sousa chinensis) on the shores of Kovalam, near Chennai. cyanotype print by Sudharshan. smokingblues.wordpress.com
This is how my friend described to me his experience after seeing a pod of dolphins go past Injambakkam village in Chennai. Dolphins are not new to our coast. They have been there for a long time. Fishers observe them frequently during their fishing trips or from the shore. My first experience of observing a pod of Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins in Chennai was very similar to my friend’s. Out in the sea on a near shore fishing trip, at a distance, I could see tiny triangular fins pop in and out of the water, as if a blade was cutting through water.
The Indo Pacific humpback dolphin or Sousa chinensis as it is scientifically known – derives its name due to the dolphin’s presence in the Indian and the Pacific Ocean. Distributed along the entire east and west coast of India, a distinct hump on its back gives it the name ‘humpback dolphin’. Since humpback dolphins are coastal species, they prefer to stay within 25m depth feeding on near shore fish such as madavai (mullets), mathi (sardines) and nethili (anchovy). Fishermen call it paru vedan (paru meaning small, tiny | vedan meaning hunter) because humpback dolphins are found in the presence of small shoaling fish.
The stories that you hear about dolphins are vivid in the memories of the men who share their fishing grounds with them. For instance, the Coromandel coast and the Gulf of Mannar fishermen refer to them as karai kadavul (shore god). The legend believed is that Kutti Andavar an influential figure from the Chola dynasty era protected these dolphins. The story is told so:
Once, Kutti Andavar made a ring out of clay and threw it into the water, asking the dolphins to search for the ring. As clay melts in water instantly, it is believed that until this day the dolphins have been searching for the ring.
Coincidentally, this ring searching gesture is very similar to the feeding behavior of humpback dolphins. Mud plumes rise up to the water surface when dolphins nudge their snouts into the sea bed searching for tiny fish, crabs and shrimp. Fishers observe this behavior when they are at the same location, like the dolphins, fishing for shrimp or crabs. The blend of traditional cultures and ecology supports the long persistence of humpback dolphins from its immediate threat – fishing!
With the development and mechanization of Indian fisheries in the early 1950’s and 1960’s, new types of nets started replacing the old ones. Transiting form cotton nets to synthetic nets, moving from sustainable to unsustainable fisheries. Cotton fishing nets could not be soaked for a long time. They would disintegrate. Every time the nets were used, they had to be dried out in the sun at least for few hours before the next fishing trip. However, nylon nets could be soaked for a longer time, which means, more effort and more fish.
Dolphins, unlike other animals, see their environment through sounds. Bats do that on land. This is called “echo-location”. A bulbous structure on their head, known as a melon, produced high frequency sounds. When sounds hit an object, it bounces back and is known to be received by the lower jaw bones. This transmission and bounce back of sounds produces a mental imagery of a given environment, to the dolphins. They receive information on the shape, size and depth of objects. Moreover, recent research shows that humpback dolphins possess signature whistles. It is as if each dolphin’s name is coded with a unique whistle pattern, which helps them recognize each other underwater. Each dolphin has a name, each whistle has a dolphin. Additionally, they also use their eyes to hunt for fish.
Dolphins live in a three dimensional environment, submersed with blue light during the day time and the nights are as dark as space itself. Synthetic/nylon nets are designed in such way that they are almost invisible once soaked in the sea. Gillnets are one such example. These nets don’t give an opportunity for the fish to escape, neither to the dolphins which go in search of fish. Dolphins are air-breathing mammals, which require them to surface every 5-10 mins to catch a breath of air. But once entangled in fishing nets, they die out of drowning. Sometimes, dolphins get entangled while taking fish from nets. However, often-times fish nets entangle swimming dolphins, as the nets are not visible to them.
The Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins are placed under Near Threatened (NT) category in the IUCN red list of threatened species. We know next to nothing about their population status in India, although their range in other parts of the world show very few population estimates. Fishing mortality is identified as one of the greatest threats to humpback dolphins. Since these dolphins prefer near-shore, coastal zones, they face dire threats due to development pressures such as urbanization, coastal infrastructures and pollution which ultimately lead to habitat loss. Heavy metal pollutants like mercury and lead have been documented from the bodies of humpback dolphin along several parts of their range, especially from highly urbanized coastal cities.
Conversely, on the positive side, humpback dolphins have secured an iconic position in the hearts of the Coromandel Coast fishers. Fishermen in Nellore district of Andhra Pradesh in the east coast of India believe that they can communicate with humpback dolphins. When fishing nets are laid and in case if the fishers spot dolphins approaching toward the nets, they give out loud warnings to the dolphin not to approach on the same path. To their belief, dolphins switch directions and swim around the nets without entangling themselves. Some fishing communities along the Coromandel Coast consider dolphins as their ancestors who are out in the sea. Cultural beliefs, traditional knowledge and science are enmeshed in these stories; which makes it difficult to tease out the scientific parts. Somehow humpback dolphins have symbolic presence amidst the fishing populations of the Coromandel Coast. Interestingly, these stories have helped in conservation and long persistence of the humpback dolphins in our coast. For this reason, we need to develop methods to understand the nature and attitudes of various fishing communities toward the humpback dolphin. This search could involve anybody with an interest including students, fishers, researchers, general public, scholars, artists, teachers and list goes on.
Many people are surprised to know that dolphins inhabit our coast. If you would like to see them for yourself, then go out to the beach one morning. Who knows you might spot them against the breaking light of dawn; when it is the dolphins’ day out in the sea.
For more information, photos and details about Humpback dolphins of the Chennai coast – please click on this link to access a scientific research paper published in the Journal of Threatened Taxa.
Thanks to Sony RK for critical comments.
Rahul Muralidharan is a marine biologist currently pursuing his PhD at ATree. a slow baby turtle and two ghost crabs was his first field notes from the beach for Chai Kadai. He is an integral part of the ideas and activities we do. We hope he will continue to bring more of the ocean in to this space.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a dance piece where the dancers dance in the first act, and in the second showed the audience how to dance? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see a musical where in the first act the actors sang and in the second we all sang together?
What would also be wonderful would be a theatre show where we, the artists, would present our world-view in the first act and where in the second act, they, the audience, could create a newworld.
Let them create it first in the theatre, in fiction, to be better prepared to create it outside afterwards, for real.” (p.29)
Forum Theatre is a technique, or a compendium of methodologies, developed in the 1970s by a Brazilian theatre director, Augusto Boal. It creates a theatre where the audience is encouraged to be participants (spect-actors) in identifying and dramatizing the connections between socio-cultural problems, economic and political repression, and also internal and personal oppressions. First, a group of actors devise, rehearse and enact a play presenting a certain view of the world, with at least one political or social problem, which can be analysed during the forum session. Then, the spect-actors are asked if they agree with the solutions given by the protagonist. The actors then perform the play one more time, but this time the audience members can yell stop and take the space of the protagonist and change actions. Forum theatre plays can be surreal, linear, or in any style or genre that organically grows from the rehearsals, but the objective must be to discuss concrete situations. Games for Actors and Non-Actors is a collection of games and exercises that can be used in any space that needs discussion, dialogue, theatre, and action. Boal has written experiential notes along with the games, to give you the context of where it was developed, and how it played out. Here is an excerpt from the book, an example of a forum theatre play in Sweden, discussing many themes we have spoken about in Chai Kadai –
“In Sweden, the controversy over nuclear energy and the construction of power stations was very much a live issue. Some even said that the main reason for the gunning down of Prime Minister Olof Palme was his having affirmed that he would pursue a policy of nuclear gearing-up. His opponents said the opposite – and afterwards, they did it anyway…
Eva is in her office, at work. The scene shows friends, the Boss, day-to-day problems, the process of finding new projects to work on, the daily grind of a hard life.
Eva is at home; her husband is out of work, their daughters are spendthrifts, they need money. A Female Friend drops round, they go out. They go straight to a demonstration against the construction of atomic power plants.
Back at the office. The Boss comes in whooping with joy: a new project has been accepted! Everyone celebrate the news! Champagne is consumed! Joy unbounded…. till the Boss explains what this new project is about – the development of a refrigeration system for a nuclear power station. Eva is torn; she needs work, she wants to support her fellow workers, but this situation poses a moral problem for her. She gives all the reason she can for not accepting this new project, and her colleagues give their opposing reasons. Finally Eva gives in and accepts the job!
In this piece it was clear that the protagonist was going to have to commit an error and not be heroic. The audience almost cried when Eva gave in. And the effect of this was an extraordinary intensification of the fight – the game of actors/oppressors against spect-actors/oppressed – when it came to finding reasons for Eva to say no. Each time a spect-actor gave in and saw that she was beaten, the piece rapidly retraced its path towards Eva’s ‘Yes’. Passions in the audience ran high again till someone shouted ‘Stop!'; then the scene stopped a new spect-actor tried a new solution starting from the first action, or the second, or even the third. Everythin was analysed: the husband’s unemployment, the daughters’ mania for consumption, Eva’s indecision. Sometimes the analysis was purely ‘psychological’, then another actor would come in and try to show the political side of the problem.
Should we be for or against nuclear power stations? Can one be against scientific progress? Can the word ‘progress’ be applied to science when it leads us to the discovery of nuclear weapons?
And on the question of the disposal of ‘nuclear waste': surely it could be satisfactorily disposed of in a social system whose central value was the human being rather than the profit motive.
I have already twice had the opportunity to take part in pieces of this kind. The first time was in the USA, where an analogous piece had been written about the inhabitants of a town which was producing the napalm used in Vietnam. In the end, in the American example, the inhabitants accepted the factory, reaching the conclusion that it would be economically ruinous to close it….. Ruinous for whom? The second time was in Lisbon, again with a similar model: there is a refinery there which is causing a noticeable increase in the occurrence for lung cancer…. but it is important for the economy. Here again, the residents give way and resigned themselves to living with pollution, rather than living without jobs.” (p. 26, 27, 28.)
Read more on the International Theatre of the Oppressed Organisation’s website: www.theatreoftheoppressed.org
shared by samyuktha pc
INK Talks. 15 mins 54s.
d’bi.young anitafrika, a Jamaican dubpoet and monodramatist tells a story of the woman’s body.
“That the Earth is becoming more homogeneous—less of a patchwork quilt and more of a melting pot—is only partly due to the extinction of regionally unique languages or life forms. The greater contributing factor is invasiveness. According to the 2005 Millennium Ecosystem Assessment report, as rapidly as regionally unique species are dying out, rates of species introductions in most regions of the world actually far exceed current rates of extinction. Similarly, the spread of English, Spanish, and, to a lesser extent, Chinese, into all corners of the world easily dwarfs the rate of global language loss. This spread of opportunistic species and prodigal tongues thrives on today’s anthropogenic conduits of commerce and communications.
Bringing new organisms or new languages into a community nearly always results in an increase of global homogeneity. Its effect on diversity is, however, more complex, raising an important point about the very concept of diversity: It makes sense only as a matter of scale. If, for example, you introduce several weedy species to an African veldt, you will increase local biodiversity. Introduce English into a multidialect Alaskan community, and you will increase local linguistic diversity—you are, after all, just adding more to the mix. But gains in local diversity due to new introductions are likely to be short-lived. Just as languages often become overwhelmed by more dominant ones, invasive plants, animals, and microbes often eventually outcompete and replace native life. If even one native grass or one native dialect perishes as a result of these introductions—as is almost always the case—global biodiversity suffers. Thus, homogeneity, while not synonymous with extinction, reflects both extinctions in the past and ones likely to ensue.”
by Vibi Yhokha
“The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue but that they are incomplete, they make one story become the only story….Stories matter, many stories matter, stories have been used to dispossess and to malign but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize, stories can break the dignity of a people but stories can also repair that broken dignity…..”
- Chimamanda Adichie Ngozi, The Danger of a Single Story
People, especially mainland Indians, have only a single story of Nagaland. No, in fact they have different single stories. They associate the Nagas with headhunting, Hornbill festival, Rock music, fashion and yes, Conflict. Nagaland the land of myths, where life is one long festival but is also a place where life is one long, long war….
But there is so much more to Nagaland than just conflict, music, fashion and headhunting. There are so many things that India and the world should know. What they know is just the single story, a stereotype, a mindset. They need to know the whole. To explain the whole is complicated, it is too broad, but let me tell you of what I know, about the Nagaland I grew up with.
Nagaland is a beautiful mountainous place, located in the northeastern part of India. It is a land rich in flora and fauna. Yet it is a land torn between two worlds. It struggles between modernity and tradition; it struggles between India and Nagalim; it struggles between conflict and peace. And it struggles with so many diversities in culture, in tribes…
I’ll be talking on three current issues – Corruption, Factional clashes and armed conflicts, and Identity crisis.
Today, Corruption and Nagaland have almost become synonyms. From the politicians to the civil society, from the bureaucrats to the student union, corruption has become too common, to the extent, that it is almost becoming normal. Naga elders often use the phrase, “Today, everything has to be bought with money,” meaning that even jobs have to be bought with money. In Nagaland, if you have the money and the contacts, you get the job!! Classism is slowly emerging and now we can see a clear division between the rich and the poor. There is a huge increase in unemployment and privatization. Public hospitals, industries are being privatized. The Nagas were once known for their integrity and honesty. The Naga society had its own flaws yet it was based on equality and democracy and was corruption-free. But now, within a span of 15 years especially after the Ceasefire agreement between the NSCN (National Socialist Council of Nagaland) and the Government of India, corruption has become more prominent than before. The Government of India is pouring in a lot of money for development, but we can hardly see development. What I see is development from the top of the ladder and not from the bottom up. Our health, living standards, education, the roads, electricity and water supply has not improved at all.
Factional conflicts and military conflicts – In Nagaland, armies patrolling is normal. Every single day armies patrol right at the road near your house. If you are traveling by car you’ll be checked at least once a day. In the locality where I live, I cannot enjoy an evening walk – an activity which most people take for granted – because of the fear of being hit by a bullet due to factional clashes. There are also cases where young men are beaten up by the paramilitary forces for no reason. These paramilitary groups, the Indian Reserved battalions recruits our own people. On one hand we have the factional clashes where the different insurgent groups have started waging war against each other, disrupting the public life. On the other hand we have the Indian armed forces (The Assam Rifles) who were once a terror for the Nagas, and who by the way killed 200,000 Nagas between 1950 and the late 1980s but have now so easily labeled themselves as the “Friends of the hill people.” It confuses me why the most developed and largest growing sector in Nagaland has to be the police forces and the paramilitary forces such as the Indian Reserved Batallions. We have reached a situation where we don’t know who is by our side…The Indian army or the Naga army.
Identity crisis – My grandparents’ generation and my parent’s generation were pretty confident of their identity because they all had seen and experienced the Naga independence struggle unlike my generation today. My grandmother still considers India as a separate country and Nagalim as a separate nation. Like my grandmother, all Naga elders have the same ideals, they refer to Indians as “they” and Nagas as “us.” However, today my generation is faced with an identity crisis. If you walk down the streets of Kohima, the capital city or Dimapur, the commercial hub, you will find confident fashionistas strutting down the road full on high street fashion. Yet these are the same people struggling with their identity, an identity lost between India and Nagalim. They do not know who they really are. Do we call ourselves Nagas or Indians? For many of us, we feel calling ourselves Indians is a forced identity. We might be forced to call ourselves Indians but when we move to metro cities, many mainland Indians have no idea of who the Nagas are. In schools, right from the beginning, we were made to study the history of India, the Indian freedom struggles, draw the Indian map, sing the Indian anthem. Hindi is a compulsory language you have to take up till your 8th standard. However, our history and our culture were never taught. This crisis has been manifested because on the one hand, we have the section of Nagas who wants complete sovereignty for the Naga nation whereas there is the other group of Nagas who are willing to compromise and become a part of India. Our generation has been kept in the oblivion; we’re just hanging in there. I have often come across so many young people and even kids questioning “Are we Indians or are we Nagas?” You will notice this confused identity in music, art, lifestyles and even in the way we dress.
To end, I leave my confusion with you. I, like my generation, am equally confused with the things happening in Nagaland. We do not know who is responsible for whatever is happening. Is this society just evolving, or is this a tactic played by the Indian Government to suppress our struggle for freedom? The freedom movement which has become diluted and has almost become a lost cause? I am confused. Yet what I know is that I want normalcy — a normalcy where my generation can be sure of who they really are and be proud of our identity; a normalcy devoid of army patrols and checkings every single day; that kind of normalcy where I can enjoy a cool evening walk without the fear of being killed; that normalcy where jobs are not bought but achieved. That kind of normalcy which you take for granted…..
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On 13 August 2012, Asian College of Journalism, Chennai, organized a discussion - Does non violence have a future in India? – conversations with Sudeep Chakravarti, the author of Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country and Highway 39: Journeys through a Fractured Land (Travels through Nagaland and Manipur). Beginning the evening, Vibi Yhokha, a student of journalism in the college, spoke about how her Nagaland is caught in an identity crisis, pressured by corruption, army and paramilitary violence, and nationalist sentiments.
A brief background on the discussion – The Government of India has negotiated or is negotiating peace accords with several dozen armed insurgent groups in the Northeast. In what is called the ‘Red Corridor,’ State and Central governments continue their racist policies towards indigenous peoples in their efforts to free up access to natural resources for corporate grab. Here too, a violent conflict continues well into its fifth decade, with periodic agreements of ceasefire and deals between the maoists and the government. Simultaneously, though, non-violent struggles such as the decade-long hunger strike by Irom Sharmila, the 28-year old struggle by Bhopal survivors and the 2-year dharna by Haryanavi farmers against the Gorakhpur nuclear plant are first visited upon by violence, then humiliated , and finally ignored. In Koodankulam, cases of sedition and waging war against the state have been made out against more than 8000 people. In all, nearly 70,000 people (mostly unnamed) are charged with various crimes ranging from protesting without authorisation, to rioting and waging war against the Government of India. Considering the markedly different response of the Government to non-violent and violent struggles, is it safe to say that non-violent struggles have no future?
Since, history textbooks in schools or colleges, mainstream media will not suffice as sources for news or analysis to further this discussion, along with the help of Sudeep Chakravarti, Vibi Yokha and Nityanand Jayaraman, we have compiled some related links and readings.
Morung Express (Nagaland): A local daily online newspaper that covers current affairs in Nagaland.
+ Color-speaking people by Al Ngullie writes on the prejudices within the tribes in Nagalim.
+ Quo Vidas Naga Nationalism? Ambraham Lotha. Perspective.
+ A Brief Paper Presentation in a Seminar on Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. Presented by Neingulo Krome, former Secretary General, NPMHR. Festival of Hope, Justice and Peace held at Imphal from November 2 – 6, 2010.
+ Operation Bluebird. – Area of Operation Within 24 hours of raiding, the Assam rifles have sealed off the area, and on July 11, 1987 an extensive combing operation was launched with the code name “Operation Bluebird” with a view to genocide the Naga public under the cover of recovering the looted arms and ammunition. Operation-Bluebird was carried out in surrounding thirty villages of Oinam- Oinam, Thingba Khullen, Thigba Khunou, Khabung, Sorbung, Ngamju, Purul Akutpa, Purul Atongba, Koide Maiba, Phuba Thapham, Phuba khuman, Liyai, Chingmei khullen, Chingmei khunou, Phaibung khullen, Phaibung khunou, Lakhamai Sirong, Sirong Shofii, Kodom Khravo, Khongdei khuman, Khongdei Shimgphum, Khonggei Ngawar, Thiwa, Ngairi Khullen, Ngairi Leishang, Ngiri Raiduloumai, Tingsong and Khamson. The Operation carried out for nearly four months lasted till the end of October 1987.
Seven Sisters Post The Newspaper of the Northeast:
+ South Asian History did not begin with India’s Independence. 22 August 2012. Kaka D Iralu.
+ Naga People’s right to nationhood. 24 July 2012. Kaka D Iralu.
+ Know the ‘Northeast People’. 24 August 2012. Teresa Rehman.
E-Pao.net, Now the World Knows (Manipur):
+ E Pao Radio. (music)
+ Profile of Ratan Thiyam and Chorus Repertory Theatre Company. By Donny Luwang.
+ Profile of Heisnam Kanhailal and his theatre group Kalakshetra. By Donny Luwang.
Books (links to Flipkart):
+ Red Sun: Travels in Naxalite Country. by Sudeep Chakravarti. Penguin. Blurb – Spread over fifteen of the country’s twenty-eight states, India’s Maoist movement is now one of the world’s biggest and most sophisticated extreme-left movements. Hardly a week passes without people dying in strikes and counter-strikes by the Maoists— interchangeably known as the Naxalites— and the police and paramilitary forces. In this brilliant and sobering examination of the ‘Other India’, Sudeep Chakravarti combines reportage, political analysis and individual case histories as he takes us to the heart of Maoist zones in the country— areas of extreme destitution, bad governance and perpetual war.
+ Highway 39: Journeys Through a Fractured Land. Fourth Estate. Blurb – In Highway 39, Sudeep Chakravarti attempts to unravel the brutal history of Nagaland and Manipur, their violent and restive present, and their uncertain and yet desperately hopeful future, as he travels along Dimapur, Kohima, Senapati, Imphal, Thoubal, and their hinterlands – all touch points of brutalized aspiration, identity, conflict and tragedy. These are the lands that nurture deadly acronyms –like AFSPA, an act of Parliament that with impunity hurts and kills citizens. Lands where militants not only battle the Indian government but also each other in a frenzy of ego, politics and survival, and enforce ‘parallel’ administrations. Sudeep Chakravarti’s journey introduces the reader to stories that chill, anger and offer uneasy reflection. Chakravarti also interacts with security and military officials, senior bureaucrats, top rebel leaders, and human rights and social activists to paint a terrifying picture of a society and a people brought repeatedly to breakdown through years of political conceit and deceit, and stress and conflict. (Click to read review of this book in BIBLIO)
+ Durable Disorder: Understanding the Politics of Northeast India. Oxford University Press India. by Sanjib Baruah. Blurb – This book explores the political meaning and significance of prolonged low-intensity conflicts in Northeast India. The author argues that if peace and development are to be brought to the region, India’s policy will have to be reoriented and linked to a new foreign policy towards Southeast Asia. The paperback edition includes a new preface where the author discusses issues of the insider/outsider and the politics of location in response to reviews of his work.
Uramili (the song of our people), a travel and film project by Anushka Meenakshi and Iswar Srikumar:
+ Sangai Express, song by Rewben Mashangva. 17 August 2012. Friday Release. (Youtube)
+ Tetseo Sisters, Nagaland. April 20th 2012. Friday Release. (Youtube)
+ Tale of Two Gandhians: Anna Hazare and Irom Sharmila. 22 April 2011. Mahtab Alam
+ Of Hotel Jantar Mantar and Irom Sharmila’s Prison Cell. 09 August 2011. Samar
Locales or Mapping Indian Theatre. Presentation by Samik Bandhopadhyay. (Audio – Part 1 and Part 2). Not the Drama Seminar, March 2008 Ninasam, Heggodu. Indian Theatre Forum. (theatreforum.in)
La Mashale. A one woman play on Manipur devised and performed by Ojas Sunity Vinay. The play has been re-interpreted and now performed in Tamil by Jeny, produced and toured by Marapaachi, a theatre group in Chennai. Ojas has opened the play to be re-interpreted by women performers in their native languages all over the country. Recording of Ojas performing Le Mashale, 10 December 2010. World Human Rights Day. (English and Hindi. Youtube)
Approaching a Tipping Point. Massive dislocation of people in parts of lower Assam masked a familiar and muscular play elsewhere in the north-eastern region. writes Sudeep Chakravarti. 23 August 2012. Live Mint. Columns – Root Cause.
Home is Hardly the Best. The moral of the story: there are multiple visions of Indian citizenship, and the state’s promises to protect and secure citizens have remained an illusion for the majority of the people who are often swept under the grand narrative of citizenship and equality. writes Dolly Kikon. 20 August 2012. The Hindu. Op-Ed.
Engaging Naga Nationalism. Any resolution of conflicts in the north-east, including the Naga one, could begin when both sides negotiate from a position of equals, and by an end to the process of militarisation that has tended to largely view dissent as a sign of subversion and anti-nationalism. writes Dolly Kikon. 25 June 2005
shared by Rahul Muralidharan, posted from BBC’s Science and Environment page.
Microscopic plastic debris from washing clothes is accumulating in the marine environment and could be entering the food chain, a study has warned. Researchers traced the “microplastic” back to synthetic clothes, which released up to 1,900 tiny fibres per garment every time they were washed. Earlier research showed plastic smaller than 1mm were being eaten by animals and getting into the food chain. The findings appeared in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. “Research we had done before… showed that when we looked at all the bits of plastic in the environment, about 80% was made up from smaller bits of plastic,” said co-author Mark Browne, an ecologist now based at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “This really led us to the idea of what sorts of plastic are there and where did they come from.” Dr Browne, a member of the US-based research network National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, said the tiny plastic was a concern because evidence showed that it was making its way into the food chain. “Once the plastics had been eaten, it transferred from [the animals’] stomachs to their circulation system and actually accumulated in their cells,” he told BBC News. In order to identify how widespread the presence of microplastic was on shorelines, the team took samples from 18 beaches around the globe, including the UK, India and Singapore. “We found that there was no sample from around the world that did not contain pieces of microplastic.”
Dr Browne added: “Most of the plastic seemed to be fibrous. “When we looked at the different types of polymers we were finding, we were finding that polyester, acrylic and polyamides (nylon) were the major ones that we were finding.” The data also showed that the concentration of microplastic was greatest in areas near large urban centres. In order to test the idea that sewerage discharges were the source of the plastic discharges, the team worked with a local authority in New South Wales, Australia. “We found exactly the same proportion of plastics,” Dr Browne revealed, which led the team to conclude that their suspicions had been correct. As a result, Dr Browne his colleague Professor Richard Thompson from the University of Plymouth, UK carried out a number of experiments to see what fibres were contained in the water discharge from washing machines. “We were quite surprised. Some polyester garments released more than 1,900 fibres per garment, per wash,” Dr Browne observed. “It may not sound like an awful lot, but if that is from a single item from a single wash, it shows how things can build up.
“It suggests to us that a large proportion of the fibres we were finding in the environment, in the strongest evidence yet, was derived from the sewerage as a consequence from washing clothes.”
As Chai Kadai was pondering over its endless list of good things to publish this particular photo-story came across as relevant. The photographer has recreated what is already known as ‘ugly’. He has set a level for what can be ‘ugly’ staging a really heavy environmental threat taking viewers off the issue (depends on how you look at it), but we liked it.
Washed Up is an ongoing project by Mexican-born, New York-based artist Alejandro Durán that addresses the issue of plastic pollution making its way across the ocean and onto the shores which is carried by ocean currents from every corner of the globe. Over the course of this project, Durán has identified products washed ashore from forty-two nations on six continents. The resulting photo series depicts a new form of colonization by consumerism, where even undeveloped land is not safe from the far-reaching impact of our disposable culture. Although inspired by the works of Andy Goldsworthy and Robert Smithson, Washed Up speaks to the environmental concerns of our time and its vast quantity of discarded materials. Beyond turning trash into treasure, the alchemy of Washed Up lies in the project’s potential to raise awareness and change our relationship to consumption and waste.