Tidal wave of plastic
The lure of cut-price luxury hotel rooms for as little as £9 a night is bringing intrepid British tourists to the beaches of the Black Sea but will they bring home more than just a sun tan?
That’s the question Byline.com set off to Georgia to answer, amid rumours recycling and beach clearance were just for show and the true scale of plastic pollution was still at dangerously high levels.
So dangerous in fact scientists have warned an accidental mouthful for a child paddling in the surf could contain enough antibiotic resistant bacteria to be fatal.
England and Georgia have the same red cross of their patron St George on the flag and President Salome Zourabichvili pleaded with the EU to allow the former Soviet state to swap places with the UK once Brexit was finalised. She said: “We will be very happy to take the place of Great Britain.”
But while the rest of the EU is clamping down on the use of plastic bags we discovered in Georgia pretty much everything from a cake to an apple is wrapped then double wrapped in clingfilm then carted off in a free bag.
A little over a decade ago the EU spent billions to clear up Europe's most polluted sea but like a castle made of sand, today we found those good and expensive intentions had been washed away in a tidal wave of plastic.
Just 10 miles up the coast from the border with Turkey, the holiday town of Batumi is undergoing a massive transformation.
All the big names are there, Marriott, Radisson, Sheraton and this week the concrete and iron skeletons of more than 20 brand new hotels under construction were visible.
New swimming pools and fun parks have changed the fishing village forever into an upmarket Benidorm.
And judging by the car parks of the Casinos filled with Mercedes and Porsches the town is already awash with money. For the Russians it is already a millionaires' playground.
The beaches outside are also awash but with waste and every morning the resort cleaners head out to pick up the plastic to keep the illusion.
We hired a jeep to drive up the sands just a few miles out of town to expose the true and horrific scale of the problem.
Every footstep you take for mile after mile you have to be careful not to tread on a plastic bottle, part of a broken children’s toy, or a squashed milk carton.
Our reporter found a Fairy Liquid bottle with an English label; how far had that travelled to end up in this part of a spoiled paradise.
Tubes of silicone sealant too buoyant to sink when construction waste was simply tossed in the sea or the rivers which flow there were very much in evidence.
A noticeable absence even at low tide was seaweed as nearly all of it has died. Seaweed like a thriving coral reef is a sure sign of a healthy sea.
The concentration of micro plastics and chemicals from fertilizer dumping are estimated to be twice as high as they are in the Med.
And tourists eating in the picturesque seafront restaurants are warned the food chain is not unaffected and seafood and shellfish like mussels should be avoided.
While the Georgian government insists recycling measures are in place and all new buildings must comply with modern sewerage collection, a hotel owner who asked not to be named told us.
“All the old buildings, like the one next door still dump raw untreated sewage into the river, we try to recycle and put plastic and paper in a different bin but I have seen them throw it all into the same lorry and mix it up again. It is just for show, the truth is there on the beaches they try to keep out of sight from the tourists.”