On March 3, YouTube user cheeseandjamsandwich posted a two and a half minute video of himself swimming through an ocean of plastic. Every frame has some scrap of plastic, dotted with some brief sightings of the reef fish, jellyfish, and a lone manta ray who have to live in a plastic mess.
The video claims it was shot at Manta Point, a tourist spot off the coast of the island of Nusa Penida in Bali, Indonesia. This is only the second video that cheeseandjamsandwich has ever posted. The first is a video described as the space shuttle Endeavour’s launch in 2008 with only 418 views. At time of writing, the plastics video had a more robust 32,171 views.
Cheeseandjamsandwich, who, according to The Guardian, is a British diver named Richard Horner, wrote in the video description: “The ocean currents brought us in a lovely gift of a slick of jellyfish, plankton, leaves, brunches, fronds, sticks, etc.... Oh, and some plastic.”
Horner first posted the video to Facebook, where it has been shared more than 19,000 times. In the description, Horner wrote that “he had never seen one anything like on this scale,” but that, just a day later, divers didn’t see any plastics at all. According to his Facebook profile, Horner is a former scuba instructor happiest “at 40 meters” who currently lives in Bali but is originally from Wadhurst, England.
Motherboard has reached out to Horner for comment through Facebook.
This kind of plastic pollution is not at all unheard of in Indonesia, which is the second largest contributor of marine plastic pollution in the world. A paper published in Science just this past January estimated that Indonesian reefs averaged 25.6 plastic pieces per 100 square meters.
As Drew Harvell, a professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell and the senior scientist on the project wrote me in an email at the time, “In some of the places we visited in Indonesia, the trash was knee deep on the shore, adjacent to a coral reef.”
Harvell told via email that the video was “shocking,” and, “despite all the plastic we saw on the reefs of Nusa penida, this moving river of plastic far exceeds anything we saw.” Some of the research sites for Harvell’s project are on Nusa Penida, and she said that, while she can’t confirm the location, “the presence of mantas and the kind of reef is consistent with it being Indonesia.”
The same study estimated that there are currently 11.1 billion pieces of plastic on Asian-Pacific coral reefs, which increases the likelihood of infection for the corals.
This is not for lack of trying on Indonesia’s part. In 2014, the country announced a 2.3 million square mile sanctuary for manta rays. And, more recently, Indonesia pledged up to $1 billion a year to reduce its plastic pollution while at the 2017 World Oceans Summit in Nusa Dua, a boat ride away from the spot where the video claims to take place.
We have yet to verify whether this video was, indeed, taken in Bali, but the latitude and longitude Horner gave on Facebook (Latitude: -8.7934, Longitude: 115.527) correspond to Manta Point in Nusa Penida.
And, in the meantime, no matter where the video was taken, it provides a startling reminder that humans have a huge impact on the ocean.
Update: This story has been updated with comment from Drew Harvell.