Filled with bottles, toys and containers, a once pristine lake is now more plastic than water.
A one-time popular tourist attraction, Bolivia’s Uru Uru Lake has experienced a drop of 25 to 30 per cent in water volume due to a drought which peaked in 2016.
As the lake has dried up, remaining water flow from the rivers that feed into it has delivered tonnes of plastic, along with pollution from mining, housing and industry.
As volunteers attempted the mammoth task of beginning to clean up the lake, climate change and pollution were singled out as key contributors to the problem by Limbert Sanzchez from the Centre for Ecology and Indigenous Peoples.
“Our Uru Uru lake, which had a dimension of 214 square kilometres, today the water surface has been reduced to only 30 square kilometres,” he told Reuters.
“Climate change is affecting this and is a fundamental aspect that must be take into account. Then there is mining pollution and urban pollution.”
Mr Sanchez said he was concerned the lake will suffer a similar fate to Lake Poopo, located just 60km away, which almost completely disappeared.
Once Bolivia’s second largest lake, much of it is now a salty plateau of mud.
While Lake Poopo has recovered somewhat since drying out in 2015 after an El Nino weather event, its health remains poor, affecting people, plants and animals who called the area home.
The largest amount of water loss has occurred around the city of Oruro which has seen a steady increase in human activity and urbanisation, a recent study found.
The researchers found that while the impact of climate change should not be minimised, poor management of water resources had a greater effect.
Increased urbanisation could see Australian waterways inundated with plastic
Describing images of Uru Uru Lake choked with plastic as “shocking”, Saul Deane from local charity Total Environment Centre said they highlight the link between rivers and plastic.
The urban sustainability campaigner argues Australia, and in particular Sydney, will need to tread carefully as land close to our river systems becomes urbanised.
“It’s a glimpse into a possible dystopian future here,” he warned.
Mr Deane points to recent flooding across NSW which saw large amounts of plastic swept up by the Hawkesbury-Nepean River and dumped on beaches around Broken Bay, north of Sydney.
While the river has historically been buffeted by farmland and bush, increased urbanisation around the water course will lead to larger dumps of plastic and debris in future, he fears.
Soft water absorbing grass is being replaced by paving and larger houses, and this channels more water into storm water drains, resulting in increased flows during torrential rain events.
“Basically we’re seeing wall to wall grey roofs over what was a rural landscape,” he said.
“With rural landscapes, there's no plastics or anything going into the river.
“As that becomes urban, you’re not only going to get increased runoff, you're obviously going to get all the sticky wrappers, cans, plastic bottles running into it over the next 20 and 30 years as it gets developed.
“It’s inevitable that Broken Bay and the (NSW) Central Coast will be much more polluted.”