Cocos Keeling: Australian Paradise and Indonesia's Garbage Dump

Oceangybe

Words by: Bryson

Latitude: 12 deg 05′ S
Longitude: 96 deg 53′ E

Cocos (Keeling) Islands group is an isolated cluster of islands approximately 2000 km due west of Bali, featuring two main atolls: South and North Keeling. The first recorded sighting was by Captain William Keeling of the East Indian Company in 1609, but remained uninhabited until Englishman William Hare arrived in 1825. Hare and John Clunies-Ross were the first two permanent residents of the islands, however due to conflicts between the two, Clunies-Ross was the only resident in 1831, when he was given possession of the atolls by the British Government.

Labourers were brought in from Africa, China, Indonesia, Borneo and Malacca to help develop the coconut plantations in an effort to boost the copra trade. Copra, an export from many island nations, is the dried “meat” of the coconut and is used in many different industries. In 1978, The Australian Government purchased the Clunies-Ross interests in the islands, and on 6 April 1984, the Cocos community choose to integrate with Australia.

South Keeling Atoll consists of 26 islands all loosely connected around the edges of a crescent -shaped atoll. Of all the islands, only three are regularly visited; West Island, Home Island and Direction Island. Home Island, the original island where Clunies-Ross lived day-to-day, is now home to the Malay population of the Shire of Cocos and follows a strict Muslim regime of no alcohol or pork. On West Island, is home to the Caucasian Australian Population, where almost everything available in mainland Australia can be found. The third island, Direction Island, is where all yachts are required to anchor is a pristine uninhabited paradise. Startling white coral sand beaches, brilliantly clear water with myriads of tropical fish swimming around the coral gardens just off the beach. Visiting yachties and the Shire have built a barbeque pit, a club house, fresh water tanks and a phone on the island, making it a perfect place to swim to off the boat and relax in the sun, while relaxing after a passage.

North Keeling is a marine reserve situated approximately 24 km north of the South Atoll. Completely uninhabited and with numerous restrictions on visitors, including not allowing boats to even anchor off the island, allows the local fauna, flora and marine life to live completely undisturbed. North Keeling also supports a completely natural forest, is home to thousands of seabirds and is a breeding ground to Green turtles. All in all, a true undisturbed Indian Ocean paradise… except for one thing: These two atolls are downwind and down current from one of the worst polluters on this planet, Indonesia.

Imagine walking down an absolutely perfect beach and seeing a bright red hermit crab crawling over the white sand beach toward the water, but instead of a shell, it’s home is a used photograph film canister. Such is life in Cocos. The leeward (non-windy) side of the islands are picture perfect but wander over to the windward side and be prepared to find a garbage dump big enough to rival a small town. And remember this island is uninhabited. The SE trade winds which power Khulula and allow us to cross oceans, blow directly from the Indonesian Archipelago to Cocos Keeling. The Equatorial South Indian Current, which runs at 1 – 2 knots, follows exactly the same path.

In parts of Indonesia, the intertidal zone (the area of beach between high and low tide) is the community garbage dump. At low tide, everyone in the village wanders out onto the reef flats and nonchalantly deposits their garbage in this area. As the tide comes up, this garbage is slowly drawn offshore and out of their minds. Out of sight, out of mind. They repeat this procedure until all garbage is removed from village !

The residents of Cocos are the unfortunate recipients of this lack of understanding of natural processes. Their beaches are covered with every imaginable plastic, rubber, mass manufactured piece of JUNK ever produced.

What can they do about it ? Possibly periodically clean up the beaches ? They don’t have the facilities to deal with all of Indonesia’s garbage and the task would be never ending until the problem is solved at the source. The chances of getting the Indonesian government to instituting a country-wide recycling awareness campaign is as likely as China become CO2 neutral country, i.e. no chance. Realistically, they have far more pressing problems like basic health care, sanitary systems and having enough food for dinner each night.

This example is a very graphic demonstration of how our actions can affect people and wildlife far beyond our daily comprehension. We need to begin to think beyond our shores and start to think of the world more as a small community, where every action has a equal and opposite reaction. As an example, Canadian students should to be taught more about the global village and become aware that our neighbours are not only Alaska and the lower 48 states of the US but also Japan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Tahiti, Tonga and all the other nations that we share the Pacific Ocean with. Our actions affect these peoples and their actions affect us. This sort of global geography, not based solely on continental landmasses but also oceans, should be instituted worldwide, because if we cannot visualize the connections we share with each other, how can we persuade people to care ? And that is the first step…

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