36. The Protectors with Muditha from the Pearl Protectors

An ocean advocacy in Sri Lanka.

And the reaction was if if you get the waste up from the river, then it's the problem of the land owner. As long as it's in the river, it's nobody's problem and nobody's responsible for it.   

 

 

PristineOcean 

Muditha,thank you for your time today. 

Muditha 

HiPeter, thank you for having me here. It's a great pleasure. 

PristineOcean 

Youare the coordinator of the Pearl protectors in Sri Lanka. 

Andare in the perfect position to help us understand one of the world's worstmaritime disasters. But first, tell me what the Pearl protectors do.  

Muditha 

ThePearl Protectors is a youth-led Marine Conservation organisation in Sri Lanka,so it's  a sort of first of their kindand it what it does is it really highlights various challenges and the threats the marine environment in Sri Lanka is facing currently.  

PristineOcean 

OK,tell me a little bit more about those threats.  

Muditha 

Youknow we are seeing a lot of overfishing, a lot of other fishermen coming fromother countries and doing bottom trawling.  

There'sdynamite fishing. There's shipping lanes that are really on top of whales. SriLanka has around 30 different species of whales. Theseare all non-migratory whales and on top of that we are seeing an increasing amount of ships now passing through.  

PristineOcean 

SiriLanka is often referred to as the Pearl of the Indian Ocean.  

Tellus a little bit about that.  

 

Muditha 

Prettymuch anything like beautiful beaches, rainforests to different types of uniquewildlife to different landscapes.  

PristineOcean 

Wouldyou say there's an appreciation in the Sri Lankan population about the beautyof Sri Lanka?  

Muditha 

InSri Lanka, where there was a war going on for 30 years, which ended in 2009,going to the north or the East.  

I'veseen the beaches was not something that has happened because of the highsecurity, and like you know all the challenges that were there. So people were confined to the land.  

PristineOcean 

OK,so the Pearl Protectors are trying to change the hearts and minds of thepopulation there. How they perceive the environment right? How is that going?  

Ibelieve the Pearl Protector has been able to achieve in changing thisperception. I've got a lot of young people who got motivated or encouraged to be in the field to study in the field of marine environment and marine biology.  

PristineOcean 

I see from your social media that you do a lot of beach cleanup. What kind ofstuff do you find on the beach?  

Muditha 

Plasticbags, food wrappers, tonnes of sets such as plastic bottles, straws.  

Youname it, it was there so we would clean like for 10 minutes and then we turnback and it's back on our beaches so it and then we we've gone down to the reefs, underwater dreams and 80% of our underwater reads over the seabed is polluted around Western province.  

Andabout 50% of the ocean around the sea around Sri Lanka is polluted.  

Thereare five out of seven different sea turtles are found in Sri Lanka. They alwayscome ashore to lay eggs. Whales, dolphins, dugongs, crustacean different types of coral fish.  

PristineOcean 

Organising volunteers that sounds like a lot of work.  

Howdo you keep motivated? How do you get your satisfaction? What is your biggestsatisfaction in the work that you're?    

Mudith

Doingthe biggest satisfaction is when we actually accomplish a goal. 

We'vebased our work based on the impact and it could be something very small. Itcould be something significant.  

Butif there is an impact, you know if we have reached that goal, that is theultimate satisfaction. The other satisfaction is when we get to work with each other because most of our team members, most of the volunteers are all young.  

Itbrings a diverse set of skills as well as you know.  

Experiences,stories, ideas, different mindset. So it's always really interesting to workwith a team that has a vibrant or like you know.  

PristineOcean 

Couldyou tell us a about a specific accomplishment in the last say year?  

Muditha 

WorldOcean Day. That was something that we wanted to really bring in a lot of peoplefrom Sri Lanka to really understand every aspect about the ocean.  

Itturned out to be Sri Lanka’s largest virtual summit with over 18 session 44experts coming on board.  

Thiswas for the first time something like that was done.  

PristineOcean 

Tellme one aspect of the World Ocean Day conference that you organised. What wereyour goals and maybe what were some of the highlights?  

Muditha 

Wealways had this challenge of how do we get the message or how do we show thepeople of Sri Lanka the beauty underwater? I mean in other countries what happens is there are lunderwater photographers who would go down and take pictures, beautiful pictures, videos and come out and show them and create stories.   

Wedon't see this partly because of the required technical equipment. It's quiteexpensive, and So what? Instead, through painting, through the art to depict the same stories in a different way so we engage the young people with school children to come up with the art and what we saw was the overwhelming response with 1000 submissions.  

PristineOcean 

Canyou tell me about another campaign that you're actively involved in?  

Muditha 

Thebiggest one, of course was the Nurdle Free Lanka campaign.  

PristineOcean 

Whenyou say nurdles, you're referring to plastic pellets. Tell us about thecircumstances around launching the Nurdle Free Lanka campaign.  

Muditha 

Thatwas this was very unexpected. It all happened because of this, every X-pressPearl ship disaster that we saw last year.  

Soit's still ongoing. We have a clean up on this Sunday as well. So from lastJuly we've been cleaning or collecting nurdles every week from the beaches of Sri Lanka.  

PristineOcean 

Well,that sounds like a lot of work.  

Muditha 

Ithas been a very tiring, rigorous presence. Nobody had done anything like thisbefore, so we had a lot to learn. We've been able to collect about 1500 kilogrammes of nurdle.  

Thesenoodles are very small, so it's not something that it's easy to go and collectit from the beach.  

PristineOcean 

Whatwere the main challenges with the nodal Free Lanka camp programme?  

Muditha 

Youhad to create the tools you had to get the root tools right at the same time,mobilise volunteers organise cleanups. Then of course create awareness and then also do surveys and then also making sure the partners on board the funding for such activities came through so it was all these things at the same time while we tried to remove these models.  

PristineOcean 

Andtell us what the Xpress Pearl  disastermeans in the Sri Lankan context, I mean was it a major event?  

Muditha 

XpressPearl is by far one of the worst maritime disasters in the world. This isbecause the ship was not just carrying oil, was not just carrying chemicals, was not just carrying nurdles, it was a whole mix of everything that it was carrying.  

Whenthe ship entered our seas, they had reported that there was a fire on board.  

Andit had been caused due to nitric acid leak. After a huge explosion on board, containersstarted falling out.  

Ifthis ship was carrying about 1400 plus containers and then after the explosionit was for five 4-5 days, it was continuously on fire, so nobody was able to control the fire and then eventually sank.  

PristineOcean 

Iguess you were following the news all the time, but what were you actuallyseeing with your own eyes on the beach?  

Muditha 

Whatwe saw was all these debris that this ship was carrying. All started flowing upon the beaches and the beaches turned black.  

PristineOcean 

Whatelse did you see washing up on the beach?  

Muditha 

Andthen what we start seeing was little white coloured pellets washing up. We'venever seen a nurdle in Sri Lanka.  

Itwas just like snow everywhere on the beaches. It was like literally walking onsnow like 10 feet deep.  

PristineOcean 

Howdid your organisation, the Pearl protectors, react to this crisis?  

Muditha 

Allthis happened while Sri Lanka was facing a lockdown because of COVID. It wasreally like it was distressing for us to see all this images but at the same time we could mobilise volunteers at this urgent juncture.  

PristineOcean 

Let'stalk about marine life around Sir Lanka. How was it impacted?  

Muditha 

Marineanimals would mistake them to be food. They look like little fish eats and sothey start consuming. We saw a lot of pictures of how.  

Fish,they're stuck in their gills in the inside of the fish, and that's becausethese fish.  

Theseabirds then on the on the crustaceans that that are dwelling on the on the onthe beaches.  

PristineOcean 

Iunderstand when this all happened. This was pretty much new land for you. Iguess you started looking around for inspiration idea.  

Iswhat did you do and where did you find that inspiration?  

Muditha 

Wedidn't have tools we didn't. We didn't know how to deal with it, so wecontacted few organisations who have actually dealt with an urgent spills before, like Ocean Asia in Hong Kong in 2012, they faced this similar incident, but they only had four containers.  

Thereare nurdles still washing up in Hong Kong.  

PristineOcean 

Ibelieve that you're someone who's deeply committed to the preservation of theocean and the natural resource that shows with your work what kind of emotions were you experiencing at the time of the disaster?  

Muditha 

I'dsay the main three emotions: one was frustration.  

Andthen at the same time, the shock, the surprise seeing this and then finally itwas, I think, and the anger and what added to the frustration was that the authority is not saying exactly what was happening, and at that time there was so much of controversy that was going on. We started seeing on news how emails were deleted. We started seeing on news, how this was all a planned effort, you know, trying to get deal or reimbursement from the ship, or, like you know, damage from the ship and trying to make money.  

Andhow did it end up in our waters? Who put water into a ship that had nitric acidthat was burning. There were satellite pictures of these oil spilling out.  

Andthat was just too overwhelming, and finally what really angers since the amountof reimbursement or like the damage.  

PristineOcean 

Howmuch damage has been claimed for this disaster from the ship's owners?  

Muditha 

We'reseeing is the world one of the world's most are stress maritime disasters.  

We'veonly been able to request for about 40 million, whereas we've only got abouttwo or three million U.S. dollars. So this is just ridiculous. I mean, Sri Lanka should ideally get at least about 1 billion U.S. dollars for the whole damage for the long lasting impact itself created, these nurdles are going to be washing up on our beaches every year for the next so many years.  

PristineOcean 

Andhow was the disaster handled politically in Sri Lanka?  

Muditha 

Soa lot of people assumed that there was some underhand deal or action takinghappening between the shipping company.  

Andit's all right to assume these things because there was very less transparencyand there was no real credible information coming out at the same time different ministers and like you know authorities coming out and giving different opinions or statements which were later found out to be not true.      

 

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