13 Apr 2017 - Watamu, Kenya (CNN) The shores of Watamu on the Kenyan coast should be pristine. They're not.
Downstream from an ecological disaster brewing a continent away, these placid waters are bearing the brunt of a foot-born problem: your flip flops.
The Japanese call them zoris. They're thongs in Australia. Tsinelas in the Philippines and chinelos in Brazil. Archaeologists have even discovered an Ancient Egyptian pair made from leather, dating from approximately 3,500 years ago.
"Over three billion people can only afford that type of shoe," says Erin Smith of Ocean Sole, a conservation group and recycling collective. "They hang on to them, they fix them, they duct tape them, mend them and then usually discard them." The average lifespan of a flip flop is two years, she adds.
They're ubiquitous, and the modern day synthetic rubber flip flop is not going away. In fact, tons of them are washing up on the East African coast.
The majority of debris visiting Kenya comes from Asia, India and China, Smith claims, and the ocean current spreads it all along the East African coast, drifting south. Some will eventually leave the Indian Ocean and make it as far as South America.
"We are actually receivers of pretty much the rest of the emerging world's marine pollution," she argues. And a significant quantity of the pollution which appears on East Africa's beaches come from discarded flip flops -- approximately 90 tons a year, says Ocean Sole.
Kenya is not an entirely innocent party, however. Smith says one company produces 100,000 flip flops a day, many of which, with grim inevitability, also enter the waterways. Before they reach the ocean they're already a problem. Smith reports that in Kibera, one of Nairobi's largest slums, a back-up of discarded flip flops once blocked the area's clean water supply.
They're not only an eyesore, but a direct health hazard, and with no hope of biodegrading.
"Our founder Julie Church back in the 90s discovered an entire beach ... was just covered in flip flops," Smith says. "What she saw were not just dead fish that had been trying to eat in their natural habitat, but turtles unable to come up on to land and actually hatch.
"[The pollution] started to kill the plant life, it started to kill the crabs on the sand ... we have deserted beaches that used to have communities there, that used to be able to fish, and the whole ecosystem has been ruined by this massive increase in marine pollution."
CONTINUE READING: http://www.cnn.com/2017/04/12/africa/flip-flops-pollution-ocean-sole/