Campaign for a plastic free Ria Formosa, Portugal

RTV – Associação para o Estudo e Conservação dos Oceanos (AECO) – Responsible Tourism Volunteer – Ocean Research and Conservation Association. The organisation’s mission is to support marine environment research, education and conservation, creating awareness and inspiring action towards the protection of sea life.

Ria Formosa is an extensive 18,000 hectare lagoon system with sandflats, mudflats and saltmarshes, protected from open sea by a long, thin belt of sand-dunes called barrier islands. The 5 barrier islands and 2 peninsulas are separated by 6 inlets connecting the lagoon to the sea. This is an important area for wildlife, particularly birds, indigenous plants, seahorses and fish. Since rubbish produced by residents and the increasing numbers of tourists is a serious threat, our project focus on the conservation of the shoreline, protecting marine animals and preserving the environment for nature lovers, water sports enthusiasts and hikers. EOCA funds will expand the annual clean-up to 11km by adding an underwater clean-up.  Funding will also enable an awareness campaign to tackle the problem at its source, targeting non-sustainable behaviours such as plastic consumption and littering. To engage tourists, residents, fishermen and students there will be photographic exhibitions in the main cities of Olhão and Faro, art installations made with the rubbish collected, in-store communications in selected supermarkets and shops as well as a digital campaign to broaden the campaign’s impact.

The Update

Over the course of 10 months this project was able to achieve great results:
– the removal of between 7 and 12 tonnes of waste during 40 clean-up sessions. Waste included fishing nets, home appliances, furniture, and household waste such as packaging and bottles.
– through diving excursions cleared 17.6m3 of marine litter. This included 3 batteries, each weighing 50kg, and each of which posed a major hazard to marine life in the vicinity.
– designed a “plastic-eater” to create awareness about the need to reduce single-use packaging; a giant metal mesh fish which is situated in the middle of the tourist and fisherman’s harbours.
– held photo exhibitions to highlight the issues of waste management to the general public; engaging over 20,000 visitors.
– produced 11 short films to educate people about alternatives to plastic, with an aim to trigger behavioural change among consumers. These can be found on aECO’s website, YouTube, Instagram and Facebook. So far, these films have received 35,000 views!

The underwater activities during this project highlighted marine litter that was too large to be removed. It is hoped that this will soon be addressed with the help of local municipalities and agencies.

Image: Ria Formosa