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What the world's most polluted beaches look like today

  • What the world's most polluted beaches look like today

    Beach vacations bring to mind long stretches of sand against tranquil oceans, sunshine, and water sports. What travelers don't expect are piles of trash, dangerously polluted waters, and marine life that faces the threat of extinction because of contamination of their habitats.

    Ocean pollution has grown into a worldwide problem and beaches everywhere are an unfortunate showcase of what has become a crisis for the planet. Plastic waste is one of the biggest issues, and of the billions of tons of plastic produced globally, less than a fifth of that gets recycled. Ocean plastic is also a threat to marine life, killing millions of animals every year and causing harm to plant life and the ecosystem. Lack of proper disposal facilities have led major cities in developing countries to discharge waste directly into the ocean, causing contamination to the point of it being unsafe to swim. As the ocean plastics break down, they become microplastics, which fish and humans inadvertently consume. And natural disasters such as hurricanes and tropical storms only exacerbate the problem, as bad weather causes a rise in ocean waves and currents, which deposit more trash on coastal areas.

    While many countries are working hard to change this, with bans on single-use plastics, regular beach cleanup programs, and community education, the problem of trash drifting in the world's oceans continues to plague us.

    Stacker has collected images and data on various beaches around the world, as well as researching what caused the ongoing accumulation of debris on what used to be the most-stunning beaches on the planet. Take a look at the photos and see what some of the world's beaches look like today and read about the steps being taken to solve the pollution problem.

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  • Santa Teresa Beach, Costa Rica

    The natural beauty of Costa Rica draws in millions of tourists every year, and while tourism is a huge boon to the economy, it also means more trash and pollution. To combat this problem, Santa Teresa has a monthly recycling program, and some plastics that wash up on shore become part of retailer H&M's bionic yarn program, where plastics are converted to usable yarn for clothing. Costa Rica also continues to expand their marine protection areas and are working on a plan to replace single-use plastic with renewable materials for all municipalities and businesses.

  • Botafogo Beach, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

    Once known for beautiful beaches, Rio de Janeiro has unfortunately had to ban its own residents from enjoying them due to the excessive pollution in Guanabara Bay. Primarily the result of most of the city's untreated sewage being dumped into the ocean, the government has made only minimal efforts to clean it up. A recent study from Brazil's Fluminense University's marine biology department determined that wild and farmed mussels off the coast are contaminated with microplastics, which can affect both humans and marine life. Rio de Janeiro banned plastic straws, and stopped allowing free distribution of plastic bags at stores, but the beaches facing Guanabara Bay remain among the world's most polluted.

  • Duong Dong, Phu Quoc Island, Vietnam

    Located off the coast of Vietnam, Phu Quoc Island is Vietnam's largest island and is home to approximately 100,000 people. Unfortunately, it is also home to large amounts of trash. A lack of waste-treatment centers, alongside a fast-growing tourist trade, has led to mountains of garbage, much of which finds its way onto the beaches or into the ocean. Vietnam was recently cited as one of the biggest contributors to the growing problem of ocean pollution, along with China, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines.

  • Manilla Bay, Philippines

    A hub for industries such as shipping, fishing, and tourism, Manila Bay faces serious issues regarding pollution and waste. Another country where there is a lack of proper waste management and minimal resources for waste disposal, the bay has suffered from deterioration of water quality, erosion, and a degradation of animal habitats. Recently, the Philippine government has made greater efforts to bring the pollution under control, with the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources citing that businesses will face stiff fines if they are found violating environmental laws. Cleanup efforts by student groups have also been underway for some time now, with volunteers working to clear trash from the bay.

  • Tarutao National Park, Thailand

    Ko Tarutao is an island off the coast of Thailand, part of Mu Ko Tarutao National Marine Park. While the island itself is a protected part of the park, its beaches still suffer from tidal trash deposits and pollution. To combat additional accumulation, Thailand's Department of Natural Park, Wildlife and Plant Conservation recently imposed a ban on all single-use plastics and Styrofoam on the island.

  • Cape Town, South Africa

    The beaches of Cape Town entice hordes of tourists every year, but they might not be safe for swimming. Tons of sewage gets pumped into the ocean daily from nearby pipelines, with only minimal treatment to remove waste and trash. As a result, fecal contamination has been found in the ocean waters surrounding the beach areas. Despite an outcry from environmentalists and scientists, so far minimal efforts have been made to fix the problem.

  • Juhu Beach, Mumbai, India

    Part of one of Mumbai's most-affluent areas, Juhu Beach is a popular destination for locals and tourists alike. Pollution from plastics and insufficient waste collection has clogged both Juhu and neighboring beaches with trash, which threatens marine wildlife and human health. Recently, residents banded together to do regular beach cleanups, collecting upward of 12,000 tons of plastic in the last few years and reducing the amount of trash on the beaches.

  • Bang Saen Beach, Thailand

    Near Bangkok, Thailand's Bang Saen Beach is considered a premiere vacation spot for locals, despite ongoing issues with trash and pollution. Thai officials say that trash dumping by ships, and poor waste management has contributed to the problem, as well as monsoon season's rain and winds bringing in even more trash to shore. Thai residents have started regular cleanups of the beach areas, which has helped reduce trash and improve the overall appearance of the beach.

  • Cocos (Keeling) Islands, Australia

    The Cocos Islands of Australia seem to have a shoe problem, which comprises nearly a million plastic flip-flops and other debris piled up on the beach. Researchers found that ocean currents are to blame, carrying tons of plastic to beaches over time and potentially getting buried deep in the sand. While volunteers have worked to clean it up, scientists remain concerned about the effects on wildlife and natural resources.

  • Isola delle Femmine, Sicily, Italy

    A small, vacant island just off the coast of Sicily, the beaches of Isola delle Femmine often have trash washing up on their shores, a problem that has plagued much of Italy's coastlines. Plastic waste is the main culprit, polluting both marine life and shorelines, and making what used to be pristine stretches of white sand a home for trash. To combat the problem, areas such as the island of Capri have banned non-reusable plastic and volunteer groups have organized cleanup days across more than 200 beaches.

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