Recently, a viral article revealed some startling news about the amount of plastic in the world's oceans. According to the Ocean Conservancy, more than 50 per cent of the plastic in our seas comes from just five countries—and they're all located in Asia.
This news is tragic—particularly since plastic consumption in Asia is set to nearly double over the next few decades—but it's also ironic: Many of the countries on this list, which highlights the world's most polluted coastlines, are also home to some of the world's most lauded beaches.
Many, but not all. With the possible exception of Sanya, on sub-tropical Hainan Island, China's beaches are nothing to write home about, even if you disregard all the plastic floating in the waters off them.
Some potentially good news came in 2018, when China announced that it would stop accepting imports of plastic from other countries. While Beijing was as secretive as usual about this decision, many assume it will allow China to focus on recycling its own plastic, thereby decreasing the filthiness of the country's beaches.
For the time being, however, China's beaches seemed poised to get worse and not better, so if you visit the Middle Kingdom during the summer, make sure you book a hotel with a chlorinated pool.
Some of Indonesia's beaches are absolutely jaw-dropping. The islands of Raja Ampat, for example, are among the world's last true paradises, a fact that owes as much to their natural beauty as to their geographical isolation, which keeps them safe from mass tourism.
Unfortunately, much of the coastline of this island nation is literally covered in plastic, particularly in Bali, whose economy depends on tourism, the industry that has all but destroyed its culture and environment. It's not uncommon for there to be as many pieces of plastic as people on popular Kuta Beach, which is remarkable considering that tens of thousands watch sunset there every evening.
Indonesia also has some of the world's worst air pollution, but that's a topic for another article. Can this massive nation scale down its plastic problem?
Vietnam has one of the world's longest uninterrupted coastlines, thanks to its long, narrow geography. Unfortunately, it's also quickly becoming one of the world's most polluted coastlines, due to the rising thirst for plastic goods among its rapidly growing population.
Vietnam simply must find a way to manage its waste, before treasures like Phu Quoc island and the Ha Long Bay UNESCO World Heritage Site go the way of the Dodo. Sadly, this seems a long way off, with many stretches of the country's beaches literally covered in plastic as recently as mid-2018.
Thailand is probably best known around the world for paradise islands like Phuket, particularly in the wake of the 2004 tsunami that devastated it. Unfortunately for the Land of Smiles, even if a tsunami never strikes again, many of its beaches may be doomed: Thailand is among the world's top contributors to the plastification of the ocean, a problem that only seems to be getting worse with time.
Unfortunately, Thailand's plastic pollution problem has grown to even more catastrophic proportions. In June 2018, a dead pilot whale washed up on the coast of Songkhla province in the Kingdom's south. Cause of death? A stomach full of plastic.
Here's to hoping Thailand can eventually find a way to deal with its plastic that doesn't involve dumping it right into the ocean.
The Philippines recently made headlines when one of its islands, Palawan, was named the world's best and a beach on the island, El Nido, was named the top beach in the world. Unfortunately, discarding plastic into the ocean threatens the beaches of this archipelago nation, unless leaders find a way to adequately manage waste.
Indeed, if plastic consumption here continues to increase at its current rates, there might soon be more plastic bags on Philippine beaches than seashells or beachgoers. While the federal government closed Boracay indefinitely in early 2018, there's no word what plans exist to clean the waters off the thousands of other islands in the Philippine archipelago, or to stem the flow of plastic in the sea from tens of millions of Filipinos who live somewhere other than Boracay.