Beach or ashtray: How cigarettes are destroying nature

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A horrifying image of a bird feeding its young a cigarette (image via Twitter).

Cigarette litter hurts our beaches, wildlife and ecologies, writes Bianca Caruana.

I VENTURED TO the coastal town of Fethiye in search of the turquoise waters represented in many of the images highlighting the beauty of the Turkish Riviera. Many of the recommendations pointed to Ölüdeniz, nicknamed “Turkey’s most photographed beach”. The pictures looked magnificent, a beautiful stretch of coastline rested beneath the Babadağ mountain. And then I arrived.

Buses crowd the busy cul-de-sac as tourists from all over Turkey and all over the world flock to the water during the summer months. The entire stretch of sand is covered with red and white umbrellas, barely an area of uninterrupted land to place my beach towel. Large wooden boats dock in the sand just metres away from swimmers.

A closer look unveiled copious amounts of litter, mainly discarded cigarette butts squashed into the beach as though it was some kind of ashtray.

In 2018, Turkey saw its highest figures of cigarette consumption to date and is ranked 24th in the world when it comes to countries that smoke the most. Most Turks have no qualms in lighting up on the beach and discarding their butts in the sand.

I’ve seen this first hand as I sit amongst the crowded umbrellas on what is considered one of Turkey’s most pristine coastlines.

Across the Aegean Sea, other coastal regions are suffering from the litter of cigarette butts.

Of the top 20 countries that smoke the most in the world, Europe makes up 65% — with Greece (12th) and Cyprus (18th) high on the list. Only this year, the Greek island of Serifos announced the launch of the country’s first smoke-free beach, an initiative hoping to tackle the serious issue of cigarette butt litter on Greece’s beaches.

In Portugal, environmental organisation Lindomar runs regular beach cleanups in Foz do Arelho and have found cigarette butts to be the main form of beach litter.

The co-founder of Lindomar, Linda, had this to say:

“In Portugal, it is common practice to toss cigarette butts on the floor. Even fishermen who make a living from the seafood in Lagoa de Óbidos flip their cigarette butts right into the water, claiming they are ‘biodegradable’.” 

In Spain, the Balearic Government is set to impose a ban on smoking on beaches in Majorca and Ibiza, and introduce police patrols. Santa Eulària is currently the only beach in the Balearics where smoking is prohibited.

All across Europe, beaches are feeling the pressure of cigarette waste. Cigarette butts are the single greatest source of ocean pollution, with an estimated 4.5 trillion cigarette butts littered worldwide each year. Much of this litter is from pure ignorance, misjudging the effects that cigarette butt litter can have on the environment and the oceans. Cigarette butt filters contain harsh chemicals such as cellulose acetate, arsenic and lead. One cigarette butt can contaminate 7.5 litres of water within one hour, making it harmful to marine life.

The recent footage of a bird feeding its baby a cigarette butt outlines the enormity of this issue as marine life continue to suffer from our wasteful habits and inability to discard of our waste properly.

Bianca Caruana is a freelance journalist & blogger specialising in stories that ignite thoughts surrounding compassion, ethics and the happiness of all beings.


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