Students participate in Earth Day 2018 event in Islamabad. Image Credit: Sana Jamal/Gulf News

Islamabad: Citizens of Islamabad city celebrated Earth Day on Sunday with hiking, bird watching and clean-up activities at the scenic Trail 5 in Margalla Hills National Park.

Students from colleges and universities actively participated in a nature excursion organised by WWF-Pakistan and Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) to mark Earth Day 2018.

The event kicked off with an informative session on the importance of keeping the environment clean.

“Margalla Hills National Park carries great significance for people of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. It holds our freshwater sources, forests, wildlife and above all it provides us the opportunity to refresh our bodies and souls through its scenic splendour” said Sakhawat Ali, Assistant Director of IWMB.

“IWMB is keenly working on the protection of the park and raising awareness on the uniqueness of park’s ecosystem to the public through different activities” Sakhawat Ali told Gulf News.

The Earth Day activities included hiking, bird watching, wildlife identification, soil making and clean-up activities on the trail which offered the participants a chance to come closer to the nature. “We identified different type of birds, learnt about the local species through pug marks survey. I really enjoyed the activities with my friends and learnt a lot too” said Muqaddas Iman, a student. Local environmentalists, hikers, diplomats, journalists and WWF members also joined the excursion.

The theme for this year’s Earth Day focuses on ending plastic pollution. The use of plastic is ever increasing in Pakistan, posing a serious threat to ecosystems as plastic products take hundreds of years to decompose. The simplest plastic normally used as grocery bags take at least 100 years to break down while the complex ones take between 100 to 600 years or more to decompose.

“In Pakistan, plastic is seen everywhere and is becoming an environmental catastrophe. In our cities, plastic bags chock up our drains, which result in flooding. In our national parks, plastic bags are detrimental for wildlife and plants. More damaging is the plastic in oceans where marine animals eat plastic mistaking it for jellyfish hence dying a painful death” said Asma Ezdi, marketing and communications head at WWF-Pakistan. “With activities and efforts, we are helping raise awareness on the plastic pollution problem to make Pakistan a plastic free” she said.

Plastic pollution is a key environmental issue and a major problem on the Margalla Hills trails in Islamabad, destroying the scenery and severely affecting the wildlife species in the park.

In order to curtail such plastic pollution, the IWMD recently initiated an anti-littering campaign which aims to make Margalla Hills National Park a plastics-free park.

Representatives of IWMD have set up a stall at the start of the trail to keep a check on plastic. “All visitors have to register their plastic items such as plastic bags, bottles, cups and food packets at the trail entry and submit their ID cards, which are only returned upon verification of the registered plastic items at the checkout” Auneeb, an officer of IWMD told Gulf News. “If they do not bring back their plastic belongings, they are fined.” Cigarettes and lighters are strictly prohibited in the park, he added.

The plastic monitoring activity which began in 2017 ensures environmental conservation and cleanliness of the park. Several signboards have also been installed along the trails to create awareness about plastic pollution and encourage cooperation of the public.