They came, they cleaned and want you to do the same
The beautiful Morawala beach in Pitipana, Negombo is a popular attraction for residents and tourists alike. Many parents find the natural reefs forming a protective barrier a little way into the water allows their children to swim safely in this area. The rocks which separate the beach from the road are also appealing because they form a natural seat for anyone who wishes to just sit and gaze at the ocean.
Unfortunately, the 200 metre stretch is also a favourite haunt for vagrants and unruly visitors who come to the beach at night to drink. They, along with other careless visitors litter the beach with plastic, food wrappers and glass bottles.
Over the years, many concerned citizens and local authorities have tried organising a beach clean-up – and the latest successful effort was organised by the Jo Kaminska Foundation last month. The clean-up lasted only two hours, yet covered 250 metres at best with some 150 people taking part and working to fill 50 bags with broken glass, plastic and other rubbish. The Jo Kaminska Foundation knows the number of bags because they needed to send someone to get more bags after the first 50 bags soon filled up!
Spearheading the campaign was Polish jewellery designer Joanna Ruda. Having observed plastic littering the beaches in Galle, she was inspired to educate local communities about the ill effects of plastic and conduct beach clean-ups. Reading about her work in the newspapers led local resident Raynor Mellawa to contact Joanna through his neighbour Chris Bentinck. Together, they organised a campaign to teach the local community about the ill effects of plastic, focus all the existing initiatives and combine them with the efforts of concerned citizens to organise one of the most effective beach clean-ups to date. It is estimated that together they collected around 250kg of glass bottles – most of them smashed by intoxicated men and strewn all over the beach.
Local authorities turned up in full force to combat a problem which they have also identified as a major issue in the area. Although drinking is banned on the beach, they feel that people arriving at the beach during night time causes many problems to the community.
Inspired by the efforts of two foreign citizens who only visit Sri Lanka a few times a year – Joanna and Chris, the local residents have formed a Civil Protection Service of around 40 people under the guidance of the local police. They collected Rs. 25, 000 to print boards which were erected during the clean-up. Sumith, a local resident, felt that they needed to maintain the ‘sundara parisaraya’ or scenic environment of the beach. ‘Badhawa pitin ena aya thamai’ he says, which means the problem is the tourists who visit the beach. Lakshan, an eight-year-old local resident felt that it would be great if people put their litter into bins so that children like him would not have to clean up the mess they made.
Naomi Jayasuriya, caretaker of the property which Chris lives in, spent a great deal of time breaking the plastic seals of the water bottles which had been donated for volunteers to drink. Asked what she was doing – she replied that she was breaking the seals and collecting them to be thrown so that they would not cause even more pollution.
Maintaining the beach will not be an easy task though, because by evening, beachgoers had already managed to litter the beach – at which point Joanna and Chris gave them leaflets and hoped that they would take the message to heart.
Joanna feels that prevention and action taken by local authorities and residents is key.
She and Chris work hard at reducing the amount of plastic they use – at the supermarket they get all their vegetables weighed and heaped into one bag – with all the labels pasted together on one piece of cardboard or bag – instead of getting everything put into separate bags.