Every year during the rainy season, tides of rubbish washing up on Bali’s most popular beaches capture the world’s attention and zoom in on the pressing issue of plastic waste. In 2021, a “mermaid” on trash-filled Kuta Beach is hoping to use the momentum from her newfound viral fame to call out the corporations behind this mess.
The photo of a mermaid lying amid a pile of rubbish on Monday, captured by a bystander, went viral this week, piquing the internet’s curiosity on the story behind the costume while also putting another spotlight on this year’s tidal trash wave in Bali.
The woman in the photo is Laura, who goes by Laura in Waterland on social media, a 35-year-old ocean advocate from Belgium. She actively uses social media to raise awareness about environmental issues and sustainability. For the drone shot below, she collaborated with Balinese freelance photographer Wayan Suyadnya.
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In an interview with Coconuts today, Laura said she wanted to create this visual content to call people’s attention to the issue of plastic waste and consumption, adding that her mermaid stunt — which she’s used in previous projects — was a great way to do it.
She described feeling “paralyzed” upon seeing all the plastic waste strewn about on Kuta Beach earlier this week, overwhelmed with despair over an issue that can’t be solved by one individual. However, as more people — comprising local officials, residents, and volunteers — arrived at the beach to do cleanups, she started feeling more hopeful.
“It was just heartwarming to see and that’s when I started feeling hope instead of despair and powerlessness,” Laura said.
However, Laura emphasized that beach cleanups and recycling alone are not going to solve the problem.
“That’s why I want to call out corporations, because they are the ones with the power to put a stop to this if they really wanted to, by stopping to produce the bad single-use plastics that we really don’t need in our lives,” Laura continued, giving examples like plastic sachets and water cups that are still widely used in Indonesia.
On Monday, authorities said about 80 tons of litter, mostly comprising plastic waste, were collected from beaches in Badung regency just in the first three days of 2021.
The plastic pollution problem across Indonesia can be traced back to the country’s flawed waste management system, which persists despite various official and community efforts to address the plastic waste issue. This includes Bali’s ban of single-use plastic in June 2019 and the province’s youth-led initiative, Bye Bye Plastic Bags.
With her mermaid costume, Laura highlighted how the plastic tide will continue until corporations “stop manufacturing and selling things we use for minutes, that pollute the ocean and environment for centuries.”
She says it shouldn’t be up to communities to clean up the trash, and called on companies like Coca-Cola, Danone, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Unilever via Instagram to step up.
“Clean ups and recycling are not the long-term solution! Stop making trash and there won’t be trash! Corporations must step up! The world needs you to put the environment before greed,” Laura wrote on Instagram.
Laura said she started becoming more present on Instagram in early 2019, after realizing how social media is a great tool for activism.
“Social media allows me to reach different people […] I’m just happy if I reach one person and that person is making a change; that’s what I want to achieve,” she said.