Madhu Nagaraja knows our lakes and oceans like few others. The Grant’s Desi Achiever (2012) has crossed the English Channel, swum across Lake Ontario and around the Straits of Magellan. He has braved strong currents, howling winds and freezing temperatures in pursuit of his passion. He has experienced the changing waterscapes around the planet first-hand.

A few months ago, he was part of a fascinating art installation called Waterlicht. The primary focus of the art work by Dutch artist Dan Roosegarde was environment and water issues. Several people, including Nagaraja, spoke about their connection with water bodies and what they were doing to help preserve them for future generations.

According to Bluewater, the Swedish water purification company, one million single-use plastic bottles are produced every 60 seconds, many destined to end up in the oceans, then as microplastics in fish, and finally us humans. A global study conducted by researchers from the Medical University of Vienna and the Environment Agency Austria providing the first real evidence that microplastics are now inside humans raises grave concerns about the health implication. Participants from countries including Finland, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, Russia, the UK and Austria had submitted stool samples that tested positive for the presence of microplastics, with the most common being polypropylene (PP) and polyethylene terephthalate (PET).

“Plastics touch humans every day in multiple ways but we haven’t a clue what the long-term health consequences will be from consuming microplastics that will enter our bloodstream, lymphatic system and liver, said Anders Jacobson, President of Bluewater.

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Saabira Chaudhuri wrote about microfibres from synthetic clothing that are ending up in our water systems. “Each year, more than half a million metric tons of microfibres – the equivalent of 50 billion plastic water bottles – enter the ocean from the washing of synthetic textiles.”

We have all read about the blue algae bloom on lakes, on Lake Erie in particular, in recent years. The bloom is fuelled by phosphorous discharge which comes from fertilisers and runoff from sewage treatment plants. In The Legacy, David Suzuki wrote of biomagnification. While an insecticide might be sprayed at low concentrations, micro-organisms absorbed and concentrated the molecules. When the micro-organisms were eaten by larger organisms, concentration was amplified again. So in top predators like raptors and humans, pesticide concentrations could be hundreds of thousands of times greater than when the pesticide was sprayed.

“I’m slowly teaching myself to avoid single-use plastic,” says Nagaraja. “I’m sure we can all work towards that goal.”

I am reminded of a quote by Marshal McLuhan at the end of the Waterlicht presentation: There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.

Baisakhi ki Badhai! Happy Earth Day!


Shagorika Easwar

Desi News