Waves for days. Trash for eternity. That’s what photographer Zak Noyle discovered on a recent trip to Java, Indonesia. The waves of Java, always known for being pristine and barreling, were now rolling swells of disgusting trash and debris.
Noyle was shooting Indonesian surfer Dede Surinaya in a remote bay when he and Surinaya discovered the water to be covered in garbage, according to GrindTV. The bay was miles from any town, yet strong currents had carried the trash of the world’s most populated island, Java, to its once pure waters.
“It was crazy. I kept seeing noodle packets floating next to me,” Noyle told GrindTV. “It was very disgusting to be in there; I kept thinking I would see a dead body of some sort for sure.”
In addition to the sea of plastic, large objects like tree trunks were being tossed around in the waves.
Indonesia, a country comprised of more than 17,000 islands, suffers from a terrible trash problem that is polluting its waters. Some of the population centers have little to no trash collection infrastructure, leading locals to dispose of their waste in the street or in river beds, after which it inevitably is washed out to sea.
Often, the only other disposal option Indonesians have is burning their trash. Incinerating waste creates equally harmful (albeit less visible) damage to the environment. According to the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives, the byproducts of burned waste “produce a variety of toxic discharges to the air, water and ground that are significant sources of a range of powerful pollutants. Many of these toxins enter the food supply.”
Residents of large population centers are often the ones improperly disposing of their trash, which storms and currents carry to beaches and islands most locals have never even seen. “There is little cultural awareness when it comes to trash,” according to Time magazine.
But Anna Cummins, co-founder of 5 Gyres, a non-profit that sails the world researching plastic pollution, told The Huffington Post that lack of awareness is not always to blame. “We met many people who would like to do the right thing, but simply don’t have access to basic waste removal/disposal. The stench of burning plastic is ever present. The juxtaposition of incredible natural beauty with the blight pollution in Bali was heartbreaking.”
No matter who is to blame, the effects are felt by those who live in or visit Indonesia. Mark Lukach, a writer for the surf website The Inertia, described his first time visiting the island of Lombok.
“My boyhood fantasy felt disappointingly ruined,” he wrote. “I couldn’t believe it. Trash in the lineup. And not any lineup. A lineup right out of my imagination – the perfect lineup … spoiled by trash.”