The symbolism of the Christmas tree is manyfold. Traditionally, it symbolises the birth and resurrection of Christ, but in our larger, modern psyche, the Christmas tree is a symbol of joy and hope, and hope is what The Pearl Protectors is trying to project with the construction of their PET (polyethylene terephthalate) Bottle Christmas Tree at the Wellawatta beach, using 1,300-plus bottles collected from the shorelines of Sri Lanka.
The Pearl Protectors is a youth-led marine conservation organisation. Established in 2018, The Pearl Protectors seek to reduce plastic pollution and conserve the marine environment through youth engagement, volunteerism, awareness, and advocacy. Over 60 volunteers from The Pearl Protectors, Zero Trash LK, and the Rotaract Club of Informatics Institute of Technology (IIT) came to support the construction. Rotaractors also built ecobrick benches near the tree using 150 kg of plastic waste. The PET Bottle Christmas Tree stands 12 feet high against single-use plastic and its negative impact on our marine and coastal environments, and will be on display till 30 December, following which the bottles will be sent for recycling through Zero Trash. The Sri Lanka Coast Guard (SLCG) also supported the project by lighting up the tree.
The Pearl Protectors Co-ordinator Muditha Katuwawala shared with Brunch that part of the rationale behind the PET Bottle Christmas Tree was to use this time of the year to drive home the issue of single-use plastics and their impact on our marine and coastal environment.
“We’ve collected over 1,300 bottles and built a tree 12 feet high to really depict the problem we have,” Katuwawala explained, adding: “When you see plastic waste individually, a lot of people don’t take it seriously, but seeing them all in one place built in the shape of a familiar structure helps get the message across. Christmas is a time when everyone comes together; it’s also the end of one year and the start of another, and so, we believe it is a really good time to really understand the problem with single-use plastic and form better resolutions for next year.”
Sri Lanka is one of the world’s worst plastic polluters. In 2017, Sri Lanka was ranked fifth in the list of countries that release plastic and polythene waste to the ocean. Plastic waste generation in Sri Lanka is estimated at 1.59 million metric tonnes (MT) per year and mismanaged plastic is estimated at 5%.
What’s more troubling is that in addition to our terrible track record with plastic pollution, we also have plastic from other countries washing up on our shores. “Trans-boundary marine litter, where plastic and other waste from other countries floats across the sea and ends up on our shorelines due to ocean currents and weather patterns, is an aspect of pollution that we have started noticing coming into play a lot in Sri Lanka,” Katuwawala said, adding: “This only serves to highlight that plastic pollution is not just a local issue, but also a global one that affects everybody.”
Looking back on 2021, Katuwawala shared that 2021 has been The Pearl Protectors’ busiest year by far, with lots of initiatives that have needed support. After the sinking of the MV X-Press Pearl ship, which was regionally and globally one of the worst maritime disasters to date, The Pearl Protectors took part in every initiative they could help mitigate the impact of the disaster, removing over 1,500 kg of nurdles from Sri Lanka’s beaches, surveying coastlines, supporting the Marine Environment Protection Authority (MEPA) in the initial stages of analysing the impacts of the disaster, and building much-needed awareness on nurdles in general.
This year also saw The Pearl Protectors host their largest World Ocean Day Summit to date with 45 marine and coastal conservation experts coming on board for four days of discussion on maritime and marine environmental topics. In parallel with the summit, The Pearl Protectors also held Sri Lanka’s largest virtual art competition to mark World Ocean Day, receiving over 1,000 applications from artists all around Sri Lanka.
“Other than that, we are really able to get the message across as to why Sri Lankans need to protect their marine environment,” Katuwawala said, looking back at 2021. “We also trained many of our volunteers to become scuba divers with a view to initiate reef and seabed clean-ups in the coming year. We conducted coral awareness campaigns and also assisted the Government with much-needed research on plastic pollution and with the sachet ban, as well as doing articles and campaigns with the goal of building greater awareness on marine and coastal conservation issues.”
Looking to 2022, Katuwawala said The Pearl Protectors will look at continuing to build awareness on marine and coastal environments, continuing its Nurdle Free Lanka campaign, as well as conducting more physical awareness sessions on conservation. Katuwawala explained that Sri Lanka in general has a lot lacking with regard to research on marine biodiversity and plastic pollution and that The Pearl Protectors will be looking to take forward some much-needed research in 2022.
Some other initiatives The Pearl Protectors hope to resume in 2022 are the “The Pearl Protector Approved” Accredited Standardisation Certificate – a certificate which recognises restaurants and food businesses who actively don’t use plastic – and the World Ocean Day Summit as well as events to mark other important occasions like World Clean Up Day and International Volunteer Day.
Speaking on The Pearl Protectors’ 2022 vision, Katuwawala said: “Our end goal is to get a larger percentage of Sri Lankans to value our ocean and marine environments because by getting more people interested, they become more willing to protect marine environments.”
The Pearl Protectors’ PET Bottle Christmas Tree, along with the ecobrick benches built by the Rotaract Club of IIT will be on display at the Wellawatte beach until 30 December.
For more information on the PET Bottle Christmas Tree, please visit The Pearl Protectors’ Facebook page.
Facebook: The Pearl Protectors