I was at Al Hafa beach yesterday, sipping a café latte and watching the ocean. This is my first khareef season and it’s quite incredible to experience the change in the sea. Our once calm, turquoise waters have transformed into a menacing, yet mesmorising, monsoon swell. Talk about nature in action. Here you really bear witness to the might of Mother Earth.
Watching ‘khareef TV’ is obviously a popular pastime. All along the beach there are groups of people staring out into the distance, hypnotised by the waves and not caring that they’re being drenched in salty spray.
So what was wrong with this perfect picture?! Well, apart from the young quad-biker hurtling down the pavement at a ridiculous pace, my concern lay with the vista below the surf. Lower your gaze just a little and you soon become aware that you’re sitting in what can only be described as a giant ashtray! Cigarette smoking is arguably a disgusting habit at the best of times, but littering beaches with countless cigarette butts is truly filthy. Don’t the polluters see the irony? They come to the beach to enjoy the beauty of their environment yet they have no qualms about discarding their rubbish there.
Cigarette butts might seem like the least of the littering problem, but they’re not just an eyesore, they can also do tremendous harm to marine life. Invariably, the Al Hafa cigarette butts will end up getting washed into the sea. There they will leak their poisonous chemicals into the water as well as into the stomachs of unsuspecting fish, turtles and other marine creatures who were simply looking for a meal. It seems that the ‘smoking is dangerous to health’ message is valid not just for humans!!
But where does this sense of entitlement to litter indiscriminately come from? Why is there such a culture of discarding things whenever and wherever? I simply can not understand why anyone would want to turn their own recreational area into a rubbish tip!
In the short time I was sat at the café, I witnessed a group of Omani men at the table next to me throw their paper cups nonchalantly over their shoulders when they’d finished their tea. No-one batted an eyelid. Would you throw your empty plate on the floor in a restaurant? Is this really that different? A similar thing happened at Mughsayl last week. I was strolling along the walkway and a large family was walking towards me. We smiled at one another and exchanged a brief greeting. The children then proceeded to throw their used plastic drinks bottles over the fence and into the sea below as they continued on their way. I know this kind of behaviour is commonplace but I still can't help but be shocked by it. It's so shameless, so blatant. People flock to these beauty spots but see no irony in spoiling them.
Is this attitude a result of being too used to having someone else clean up after you? Almost everyone here seems to have a housemaid. I guess if you’re used to your mess magically ‘disappearing’ then perhaps you somehow imagine the same thing happens outside of the home? Mess is somebody else’s problem!!
Whatever it is, it has to stop. Parents are setting a terrible example for their kids and some kind of intervention is needed to stop this problem continuing for generations to come. But what can we do to change a littering culture that is so deeply ingrained? It’s a difficult problem to tackle because it requires a real shift in attitude. We can organise beach clean-ups but they’re only a very temporary solution and don’t get to the root of the real problem. In fact in some ways they perhaps even reinforce the attitude that it’s OK to litter because someone else will clean it up.
There’s a real need for public awareness campaigns as well as education within the school curriculum so that children learn early on about the consequences of their littering actions. From a practical point of view there also need to be more bins. Let’s face it, if people can’t be bothered to walk more than 5 metres to a shop entrance then they’re not about to walk a multiple of that in order to find a rubbish bin. Bins are fairly scarce around here at the best of times and it seems they may even be decreasing in number. A friend I was chatting to over the weekend had just recently been up to Wadi Darbat and said that the bins that used to be there have been removed!! Why on earth would anyone get rid of them? If anyone knows anything more about this, please do enlighten us! Perhaps they’re simply about to replace them with European-style colour-coded sortable bins for recycling?! If only…
I think perhaps the most brazen littering I’ve yet seen here though was on a recent flight from Salalah to Muscat. We were walking towards the plane when an abaya-clad lady simply bent down and placed her used teacup on the tarmac – right beside the aircraft! Does she have any idea how dangerous debris on a runway can be? I was completely gobsmacked. The ground staff looked equally dumbfounded but, annoyingly, said nothing to her and simply picked up the offending item. This is a big part of the problem here. Someone really needed to confront her about it and perhaps she’d think twice the next time. It took only a 40cm piece of metal debris to bring down concorde, killing everyone on board. Runway debris is an incredibly serious matter but one for which this particular lady had no regard. Insha’Allah we will arrive safely! I’m getting angry again just thinking about it!!
So what can we do to turn Dhofar’s litter bugs into eco bugs?
- Set an example by not littering yourself
- If you're camping/BBQ-ing at the beach or in the desert etc. always take your litter away with you
- Keep a rubbish bag in your car so you can pick up litter when you're out and about
- Educate the people you know - friends, family, students etc.
- Organise clean-ups - If you'd be interested in taking part in one please get in touch!
- Write to Dhofar Municipality to suggest more rubbish bins in prominent places and to encourage recycling facilities
- Adopt a street or park to keep clean - a little bit of community pride works wonders!