Contrary to Western belief, the long-term effects of pollution are not universal knowledge throughout most of the world, says National Geographic contributor Jon Bowermaster. On the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia, the ocean-health expert has seen old women throwing perfectly sorted recyclables into the ocean (“that’s where they belong,” she said), and in the South Pacific he struggled to explain the concept of conservation to a population of natives whose ancestors have used the ocean as a recycling bin for the last 1,000 years.
On French Polynesian coral atolls, he said, “These are people who don’t look past tomorrow. They’re not worried about five or 10 years from now, they’re worried about catching a fish to eat tonight. Their parents and grandparents threw all of their garbage into the ocean, so that’s what they do. When it was just coconut husks, that was perfectly fine. But, now its Coca-Cola bottles and plastic wrap.”