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The Coral Triangle in South East Asia harbours the highest marine biodiversity of our planet. Marine plastic waste is dramatically increasing in this area and is posing a threat to marine organisms, ecosystem functioning and ultimately to humans living in dependence of marine resources. As a contribution to prevent the Coral Triangle from being suffocated by plastic, the No-Trash Triangle Initiative was founded in late 2017 by marine scientists from Indonesia, Italy and Germany.

The aim of this initiative is create a Trash Bank that gives islanders the opportunity for an income by collecting and selling waste and increase at the same time the motivation for waste separation.

Our goal is to combine concrete local actions - such as educational programs in schools and beach cleanings - with scientific research, in order to develop further a waste management concept locally with Bangka Island, North Sulawesi, as a case study, which eventually could be extended to other remote islands and rural communities, and even exported to regions with similar geographic properties.

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WHEN GOOD IDEAS MEET GOOD CONNECTIONS

In early 2017, Dr. Miriam Weber and Christian Lott, marine biologists from HYDRA Marine Sciences, a German institute for research, documentation and consulting, came to Coral Eye Resort and Marine Station in North Sulawesi (Indonesia). Together with the academic partner Prof. Markus Lasut from Sam Ratulangi University (UNSRAT) in Manado they set up a research project on the biodegradation of plastic in the tropical marine environment.

“We started to realize the devastating extent of plastic pollution when observing how near-pristine tropical beaches were covered with floating trash by every tide and we decided to act”.

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Talking to Marco Segre Reinach, a marine biologist himself and owner of Coral Eye, who had already been involved in environmental issues (he is one of the founding members of Bangka Conservation Fund, which was established to fight illegal mining on Bangka Island) their idea took shape: give a value to the trash collected and combine scientific studies to better understand the extent of the problem. All resorts on Bangka Island decided to unite forces and the pilot project started.

“While biodegradable plastic will play a role in the future, waters are already polluted with conventional plastic: it’s through this understanding that the No-Trash Triangle Initiative was conceived”

In March 2018 first action was taken with a short visit by Prof. Dr. Gilian Gerke - a waste management and recycling expert from the University of Magdeburg/Germany - and the arrival of her master student Julia Giebel. Under the guidance of this initiative, Julia and helpers from Coral Eye, Sea Souls, Murex Dive and Blue Bay Divers resorts, sorted and analyzed the stored waste that Coral Eye collected on a stretch of 100 meters of beach during six weeks from November to December 2017. 

The outcome was exciting and disillusioning at the same time. The results show that over two thirds of the total weight of the beach waste is recyclable and has an, albeit low, economic value. But the market value of the collected plastic is too low to allow for an economically sustainable management, i.e. it does not pay all the expenses. However, based on these analyses the Bangka consortium of resorts decided to start the project anyway.

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