Rapacious loggers & bewildered people – the taking apart of PNG
Travelling with donkeys through the backblocks of PNG

Environmental wreck: More plastic than fish in Waigani swamp

The river of plastics and other rubbish penetrates the Gabagabada


PORT MORESBY – The Waigani swamp is a freshwater swamp known in the Motu language as Gabagabada or Big Swamp.

It stretches from Gerehu Stage 6, a contour north of Port Moresby, to 8 Mile, an area in the north-east of the city.

In those nostalgic days, just before Europeans invaded and paved the way for Asians and other people to migrate to Port Moresby, the Waigani swamp was a Garden of Eden to the Motu-Koitabu people.

It was home to edible fish species like the tilapia, gold michaels, stoneheads and eels. It was also a sanctuary for wild pigs, magani, deer, crocodiles, snakes, swans and many different species of birds.

As Port Moresby expanded, the city authorities decided to pipe some of the city’s sewage to the Waigani swamp turning it into a boiling shit-cream quagmire topped with a brown foam.

Settlers who had migrated to the city from the highlands colonised the rest of the swamp where the scorching sun and the pangs of poverty dented their dreams.

The migrants were not idle. They tactically planted tubers, bananas and vegetables during the dry season using the lake to irrigate the crop and the yields were big enough for them to make ends meet in Port Moresby, which can be an unforgiving city.

In a ‘survival of the fittest’ melee, the Papuans were sieved out of the Waigani swamp and pushed to the coastal fringe or the inland.

A substantial proportion of Port Moresby residents now get food from the fishing and gardening in and around the Waigani swamp whose product is sold at the markets.

However, the bounty of the swamp has been ruined by the invasion of plastic which Port Moresby seems incapable of managing.

Drain filled with rubbish
Rubbish-filled city drain

The amount of plastic that was ferried to the peat lands during the rainy seasons has engulfed the precious swamp.

Every dig with a spade strikes a stratum of plastics buried under the soil making gardening difficult. A typical gardener labours to extract many huge heaps of plastic which are then to burned or otherwise disposed of before planting.

Papua New Guineans - learned or uneducated - have a tendency to use drains and waterways as rubbish bins.

The waste collection system of the city is disordered, worsening the tsunami of plastic inundating Waigani swamp.

The plastic affects aquatic life as well as food gardens and has created an emergency situation.

People are living in a plastic age and are surrounded by plastic products that are easy to get and easy to toss away.

It is estimated that eight million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year with plastic bags taking 20 years to decompose, plastic bottles 450 years and fishing lines 600 years.

Our oceans are being compromised by plastic pollutants – from huge areas of floating plastic waste to dead whales and other marine creatures with bellies full of plastic.

In Waigani swamp, fragments of different forms of plastic waste have been found in the gills and stomachs of gold michael fish and eels.

Furthermore, people know very little about the impacts of micro-plastic on ecosystems.

Micro-plastics are small barely visible pieces of plastic - fragments less than five millimetres in length that can also be ingested into the human body as well as seeping into soil, floating in the air and posing a threat to animal and human health.

Most marine pollutants originate on land where rivers and floods transport plastic waste to the sea due to inadequate disposal and handling of landfill, industrial and general waste.

The polluted GabagabadaTo prevent plastic from ending up in the oceans, awareness must start on land to change people’s behaviour.

Almost all research on plastic pollutants in water systems focuses on oceans but the biggest problem is plastic that ends up in freshwater ecosystems such as the Waigani swamp.

Everyone needs to think about designing new ways of dealing with this problem.

This includes consumers who must to become conscious of and accountable for their actions.

Papua New Guineans need to be worried and, more usefully, enlightened about the plastic that ends up in the ocean, rivers and lakes including our priceless Gabagabada, the Waigani swamp.


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Daniel Wakena

We're fucking up things that cannot be unfucked...to put it bluntly.

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