Plastic pollution is one of the problems on Mozambique Island, where the Portuguese discoverer Vasco da Gama arrived 525 years ago on his way to India, and where the country's first capital was born.
The local economy is centered on fisheries and marine resources, and plastics are a threat to species, as well as being an assault on oceans already under pressure due to climate change.
Bottles, caps, and all kinds of plastic packaging are picked up on beaches by scavengers or dropped off by restaurants and businesses, and accumulated in a municipal yard in the center of the island.
This is where a recycling workshop wants to change the course of this pollution story.
"Here we clean, separate the plastics and try to produce new pieces," explains José Júnior, responsible for the recycling project implemented by the Portuguese non-governmental organization (NGO) Oikos (in partnership with URB-África/UCCLA, among others), supported by Camões - Instituto da Cooperação e da Língua.
Specialized machinery grinds and shapes the plastics to give birth to mosaics, tiles, blocks, and other pieces that a team of young people from the island perfects every day, now looking for buyers to make the workshop self-sustainable.
Word is spreading and children are showing up at the workshop with a handful of plastics to sell: today it was Momade Mularanja, one of the recycling operators, evaluating the waste and handing over 20 meticais (just under 50 euro cents) to the group that came to deliver them.
"It is a sign that the population is taking ownership of the idea" that plastic can be valued if it is removed from the environment and recycled, he says.
"There's a lot of plastic stuff there in the market. There are packages of pasta, sugar, cookies" and a lot of children spreading them, complains Berta Eusébio, salubrity technician for the municipality of Ilha de Moçambique, who wants to stop the risk that "the plastic can go to another continent.
It is a process that "will take time," but José Júnior believes that if the solution is born in the community, it will be easier to "mobilize the population for a civic action" in which the garbage stops going to the ground and starts being recycled "without being a threat to the oceans.
The workshop's action is part of a strategy to preserve the sea's resources that includes projects with the communities (with support from Camões and Blue Ventures Conservation) to put an end to rampant fishing - an activity so voracious that today there are boats "that return to land with nothing", says Dane de Almeida, one of Oikos' liaisons to the communities, responsible for marine conservation.
The projects are "trying to help communities recover fisheries resources that are disappearing" through management measures that they implement themselves.
You cross the stretch of sea that separates the island from the mainland to reach Cabaceira Pequena, a fishing village where a local management council has been formed and is meeting with the maritime authorities under one of the largest trees in the village.
Living conditions are precarious and there is discussion about the preservation of the greatest wealth, fishing.
Under discussion is the establishment of closed zones, areas demarcated with buoys, where fishing is not allowed for a certain period of time to allow the fish to reproduce rather than disappear.
"The message we try to get across is that you can't take away the little fish," says Fatima Momade, a community activist who, like the rest of the team, recognizes that changing behaviors takes time.
Ossumane Abudu, head of the fishing community council, goes down to the beach and approaches the last boat of the day to arrive at Cabaceira: it brings mullet and rabbit-fish, which is weighed and sold right there on the beach.
Before returning home, he goes out to sea a few kilometers away to check the placement of the buoys marking one of the closed areas, where he hopes no one will be fishing in the coming months.
"We created this last year and it worked because the fish that had disappeared came back. So, this year we want to do it again," with regulations and fines for those who transgress, he tells Lusa.
"Anyone who comes in and fishes is punished up to 12,000 meticais," about 177 euros.
Manuel João, from the maritime authority, is following the process.
Faced with the "scarcity of fish," this seems to be the right way, the one that "will make us happy," he says, and in Cabaceira Pequena, happiness is synonymous with more fish, the center of the entire local economy: with it, "everyone wins. (Lusa)
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