The World's Five Filthiest Coastlines

The world's most beautiful beaches may soon be the dirtiest

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.

  • 01 of 05


    ••• With overpopulated cities such as Beijing, pictured here, it's no wonder that China's coastline is among the world's most polluted. Robert Schrader

    Many, but not all. With the possible exception of Sanya, on sub-tropical Hainan Island, China's beaches are nothing to write home about. In fact, I remember visiting a beach just outside of Shanghai when I lived there a few years ago, and being shocked not only at the amount of trash in the water, but at the color of the sand—nearly black—and the froth of the brown ocean, which was the sort of yellow you usually only see in toilets. Unfortunately, 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.

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    Polluted beach
    ••• Stuart Dee/Getty Images

    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. Indonesia also had the world's worst air pollution in 2015, but that's a topic for another article.

  • 03 of 05


    Mui Ne
    ••• Trash is only the beginning of the problems for Vietnam's beaches. This one, in Mui Ne, had to be paved due to erosion. Robert Schrader

    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. Here's to hoping this country finds 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.

  • 04 of 05


    Koh Kradan
    ••• Paradisiacal Thai islands like Koh Kradan, pictured here, may soon be a thing of the past. Robert Schrader

    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. Here's to hoping the Kingdom can find a way to deal with its plastic that doesn't involve dumping it right into the ocean.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    The Philippines

    ••• Overdevelopment of Filipino islands such as Boracay threatens the country's fragile coastal ecosystem. Robert Schrader

    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 Filipino beaches than seashells or beachgoers.