Liberian-flagged cargo ship lost six of the containers it was transporting on December 8 in Portuguese waters, 80 kilometers from Viana do Castelo.

One of the containers, in accordance with the Spanish Government, which cites the boat’s owner, had a thousand bags of small white balls used in the manufacture of plastics.

The first bags to wash up on the coast, weighing around 15 kilos each, were identified on beaches in Galicia on December 13, and close to 60 bags have been collected so far, informed local authorities cited by Spanish media.

However, at the end of last week, the plastic balls began to arrive on the coast scattered outside their bags, with environmental organisations and local newspapers reporting the “invasion of the sands” by this material and “beaches painted white”.

On January 5, the regional government of Galicia activated level 1 (the last serious) of the Galicia Territorial Contingency Plan for Marine Contamination, which foresees surveillance and cleaning measures.

The regional government advisor responsible for the Environment, Ángeles Vázquez, stated on January 8, that analyses have been carried out and the small balls “are neither toxic nor dangerous”.

“But it’s plastic and we need to remove it from the sands”, he said.

The Galician environmental association Noia Limpa, which cited data from EU Monitor, shared the balls are less than five millimeters in diameter and it is estimated that in 2019 alone, between 52,140 and 184,290 tons were lost to the environment.

“Due to their small size and lightweight, it is almost impossible to clean them after they scatter across the waters and beaches”, in addition to being “toxic sponges, which attract chemical toxins and other contaminants to their surfaces”, explained Noia Limpa.

These small balls are not biodegradable, they will fragment into microplastics over the years, that will enter the marine food chain.

“Previous cases evidence cleaning up the “pellets” (plastic balls) can take months, even years, and we still couldn’t recover the entirety”, explains Noia Limpa.

A map that the association made available on its website, based on testimonies and official information, conveyed that the plastic balls have been identified on beaches along almost the entire coast of Galicia, from Vigo, in the southwest of the region, to the north.

Authorities in the neighbouring region of Asturias stated on January 8, the material was also identified on Asturian beaches and that the local contingency plan for marine contamination in the region had also been activated.

The danger of this accident should not be “underestimated”, as it is not known “how it will affect the environment and living beings”, stressed the Galician Ecologist Federation.