The mangrove forests on Java’s north coast are slowly suffocating in plastic waste. The plastic problem in northeast Asia is huge and a growing threat to the region’s mangroves; a natural ally against coastal erosion. Based on fieldwork published in Science of the Total Environment, NIOZ researcher Celine van Bijsterveldt shows that restoration of this green protection belt is impossible without better waste management.
Van Bijsterveldt has monitored the accumulation of plastic waste in Indonesian mangroves over years. Most of it includes household litter, carried from the inland to the coastal area by local rivers. Ultimately, the waste gets stuck in the last stronghold between land and sea. Van Bijsterveldt: ‘Mangroves form a perfect plastic trap.’ For the mangrove tree, this trap can become quite lethal. The most common mangrove tree on Java’s coast, the grey mangrove, has upward-growing roots to get oxygen flowing during high tide. ‘You can look at these roots as snorkels,’ says Van Bijsterveldt. ‘When plastic waste accumulates in these forests, the snorkels are blocked.’ In areas completely covered by plastic, trees suffocate. MORE
Header image: Celine van Bijsterveldt.