A beautiful sunrise. A pristine ocean view. The beaches of Sanya, China's southernmost city in tropical Hainan, can be picture-perfect, designed for Instagram and the latest WeChat moment.
As with many things in China, however, the beauty at first glance hides a much darker reality beneath the surface
Joining some friends for a snorkeling venture in the shallows of XiaoDongHai this morning, I prepared to capture on camera any number of the fish I've seen in this bay, from the Indo-Pacific and Scissortail Sergeants to the Threadfin Butterflyfish or the transluscent Bluestreak Cleaner Wrasse. What caught my attention instead was the devastating underbelly of Sanya's ocean problem.
What I couldn't see from the beach now surrounded me. Trash. Plastics and rubber, ropes and Styrofoam, the debris floated like wraiths all around me, poking my arms, grabbing my fins, stabbing my heart. I've seen what garbage can do to a beach, but never before had I seen how destructive it is beneath the waves.
During our short swim, we encountered a jellyfish trying to consume one plastic bag
and a crab trapped inside another
We rescued the crab from his prison, and he apparently couldn't thank us enough, refusing to let us go. But oh how we wish we could have done more! We get involved in beach cleanups and we often "Splash for Trash", but is this really enough?
Beyond the visible garbage of rubber gloves and plastic bags which pose a clear and present danger to our vulnerable sea-friends exists the more serious threat of microplastics, tiny particles which cloud the waters in a greenish hue. It's these particles which no well-meaning beach-cleanup on the weekend can cure, and it's this microscopic threat which requires the help of institutions larger than the individual.
I applaud the Chinese government and Hainan leaders who have commited to phasing out non-biodegratable single-use plastics on the island by 2020. This is an amazing first step! But beyond this, foreign guests like me and Chinese citizens, businesses and hotels, factories and fishermen alike also require the education and motivation to do our part to stop this senseless pollution. A people committed to the preservation of their environment should welcome stronger regulations and heftier fines against such harmful acts as industrial pollution and individual littering.
Sanya has been my home since 2014 and it will remain such for many years to come. I anticipate the future in which Sanya is known for its pristeen ocean views, both above and beneath the waves.
Jesse Adams is the owner of Pathfinders Oriental in Sanya, a culture-exhange agency with an interest in environmental preservation. He can be contacted at PathfindersOriental@protonmail.com