Rich Horner filmed himself diving near Manta Point in Nusa Penida, Bali on March 3, but instead of capturing gorgeous marine life and crystal blue waters, the dive took place amongst hundreds of pieces of plastic garbage that pollute the once-pristine portion of the Indian Ocean.
"The ocean currents brought us in a lovely gift of a slick of jellyfish, plankton, leaves, branches, fronds, sticks, oh and some plastic," Horner wrote in a March 3 Facebook post that accompanied the video. "Some plastic bags, plastic bottles, plastic cups, plastic sheets, plastic buckets, plastic sachets, plastic straws, plastic baskets, plastic bags, more plastic bags, plastic, plastic, so much plastic!"
In fact, Horner noted the plastic waste was so prevalent that many of the mantas which rely on the area to survive simply opted "not to bother."
Aside from being visually disturbing, the plastic waste Horner caught on video is undoubtedly damaging to the mantas near Bali and other sea life. According to ABC News Australia, a new study by researchers from Down Under, Italy, and the United States found tiny plastic particles — microplastics, which are a result of plastic breaking down — are a particular threat to animals in this locale, because the living creatures are capable of swallowing up to 90 pieces of plastic every hour.
And as anyone who has studied marine life or environmentalism will tell you, the negative impact doesn't just stop with the mantas and other animals. When ingested by living things, microplastics not only have the potential to alter biological processes in the animals, such as growth, development and reproduction, but they also then enter the food chain, thus having the ability to harm humans.
As Horner put it on Facebook, although the plastic in the bay would wash out with the tide, plastic doesn't really go away. "Plastic doesn't really breakdown, much that it just breaks apart into smaller and smaller pieces, becoming microplastics," he wrote. "As with all the plastic in the ocean, it becomes coated in yummy algae that fish, turtles, etc. love to eat. So these small/tiny pieces of plastic will be eaten even more, entering the food chain, along with the toxins they contain and have absorbed. That food chain obviously leads up to us."
Furthermore, plastic waste harms more than the area surrounding Bali. Per the Plastic Oceans Organization, more than 8 million tons of plastic are dumped in our oceans every year.
In an effort to stop or at least curb the problem of plastic pollution, Murdoch University lead researcher Elitza Germanov believes people need to understand more about it. "Raising awareness of this issue in communities, among governing bodies and industries could help to change behaviours around the production, management and use of plastics," she told ABC News Australia.
For Bali and the surrounding areas in particular, Germanov also made the point that damage to mantas and other marine life could negatively impact tourism, the island's leading industry. "I just really want to make a fuss about this and draw attention to these amazing creatures, knowing that they are important to tourism, so that these countries consider protecting their assets," she concluded.
And, as Horner noted in his Facebook post, although high-tech solutions to remove plastic waste from the ocean might help, the most impactful solution would be to "just stop putting any more plastic in the ocean."
Cover image via Shutterstock / Igor Tichonow.