Sri Lanka Nurdle Spill: Another Example of Governments Needing to be Prepared


This past May, Sri Lanka joined the list of countries to become intimately familiar with the devastating impact nurdle pollution can cause when a container ship caught fire off the island’s west coast. This particular container ship was carrying hazardous chemicals and 78 metric tons of nurdles. In the days following the fire, billions of plastic pellets washed up on the island’s coastline, creating one of the worst environmental disasters in the country’s history. Reports of dead animals have already surfaced, and environmentalists fear the true impact on local wildlife and the ecosystem will be felt for years to come. Environmental concerns are not the only issues facing this community, as Sri Lankan authorities issued a fishing ban along a 50-mile stretch of coastline following the incident, leading to economic repercussions for locals who rely on fishing for income and subsistence.

As the country focuses on cleanup efforts and addresses impacts from chemical leakage and nurdles, emphasis must also be placed on mitigating future pollution events. This latest spill is a lesson for the world. Environmentalists are already urging the government to create new laws and regulations, acquire additional equipment, and expand training for Navy and Maritime Authority officials to increase oversight and help prevent similar disasters from happening again. But it is not just the government who must consider proactive measures to reduce the risk of future spills, as manufacturers and shipping companies also bear a responsibility to ensure hazardous chemicals and nurdles are stored safely and durably. Governments, manufacturers, shipping companies, and the maritime industry at large must work together to eliminate and proactively prepare for the possibility of future spills. As Sri Lanka has discovered, to not be prepared leads to dire consequences.

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About the author: Lisa Scobel is a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she is pursuing a master’s in Environmental Conservation. A native of the Gulf Coast, Lisa is devoted to protecting coastal ecosystems and is passionate about reducing plastic pollution. Currently, Lisa is focused on expanding Nurdle Patrol by generating new partnerships and promoting data collection efforts.

Photo credit: AFP