Last Sunday (October 8), Goa hosted a mega international sporting event at Miramar beach in Panjim – the Ironman 70.3 – which, in its third edition, gave a far better account of itself in terms of organisation and management.
More than 1,200 athletes from India and abroad took part in the tough race that challenges an athlete’s endurance prowess in 1.9-kilometre swimming, 90 kilometres of cycling and 21-kilometre running.
Though the event was well-managed, plastic bags of all descriptions floating along the swim course in the early morning hours left a very bad taste in the mouths of many triathletes. Though the swim course director of Ironman did his best to clear the garbage from the Miramar shore for three days before the main event, nothing much could be done about the plastic pollution in the sea.
At the Ironman swim race on Sunday, the faces, hands and feet of many of the swimmers — even their mouths — would regularly come into contact with plastics floating in the water. The overall conclusion that many athletes will come to is that the water off Goa’s fabled beaches is ‘dirty’.
One Ironman official from Australia conducting a test swim along the course before the event came in contact with these plastic bags, so she completed the rest of the swim with her head out of the water and complained to the swim course director about the water quality. But it was too late.
The plastic pollution in the water serves as a grim reminder for us to turn the tide of plastic pollution away from our shores and ideally end it once and for all. But do we have the will?
The plastic pollution at the Ironman race impresses upon us to address the pollution of marine litter and plastic pollution in our waters and backyards. If we don’t act now, then we must stop dreaming of making the Ironman event a permanent feature in Goa.
In my opinion, the Ironman race, which brings athletes from different countries, has the possibility of making a very valuable contribution to powering quality tourism in Goa. But you can’t have people coming and swimming in dirty waters and taking back a bad image.
If one sees plastic pollution in the sea and garbage festering on our roadsides, it can be said that there is a lack of political will to set the house in order. All those boasting about Goa being a world-class tourism destination must take a walk on our beaches and acknowledge the fact that garbage is taking us down into a rotting hole.
It's time now for an integrated solution to plastic and other litter, and it has to be a long-term one. The locals as well as the tourists have to understand that Goa’s waters are not to be used as a dustbin.
The collection, transport, processing, recycling and disposal of all forms of waste have to become more efficient. At the same time, the authorities, including the police, will have to penalise those littering and compound the fine for a repeat offence.
Dealing with plastic pollution is a long-term measure, one which should involve all coastal stakeholders, including shack owners and fishermen. To start with, the waters of the tourist beaches can be cleaned by providing a subsidy to our traditional ramponkars to keep the coast and the waters free of plastics and other waste materials.
The subsidy should ensure that the fishermen don’t make a loss while operating their rampons (fishing nets) every day. Seeing traditional fishermen operate on the beaches every day will in itself be a huge tourist attraction in addition to cleaner waters.
This may sound a bit odd to many to use the services of fishermen, but at the present time it appears to be a practical and temporary solution. Or, else, the government will have to find a permanent solution lest plastic pollution sink us further down the hole.