COASTAL CLEANUPS: CAN THEY ACTUALLY HELP SAVE OUR SEAS?
There are few things more beautiful than masses of humans coming together to better the environment. Each year, on International Coastal Cleanup Day, just this happens. This past week, on September 15th, communities around the world came together, sharing the common goal to collect trash and protect our coastlines. In the past several decades, this goal has grown, and now you can find cleanups each month, worldwide. While coastal cleanups are pivotal in preventing the flow of more waste into the ocean, can they actually help save our seas?
Our coastlines and beaches are critical to our existence. They offer countless cultural, ecological, and economic services. These services range from recreation to storm protection. They are the bridge between us and the underwater marine world. Because of their proximity to the marine world and the organisms inhabiting our oceans, we must be especially attentive to how we treat these areas. Even the most pristine coastlines are not victim to our impacts.
Trash, especially plastics, is hands down one of the biggest threats to our oceans and marine wildlife. The statistics are extremely alarming and enough to make anyone rethink their daily choices. It is estimated that each year, 1.4 billion pounds of trash ends up in our oceans. 1.4 BILLION. Of this a vast amount, a majority is plastic. It is estimated that trash and plastic pollution affects 100 million marine mammals each year. This doesn’t include the countless other species of fish, seabirds, and invertebrates also affected. In the past few years, we have seen some of the most powerful images that show how our waste is destroying ecosystems and hurting marine life. Turtles have plastic straws stuck in their noses, a seahorse grasps onto a plastic Q-tip, a fish is stuck in plastic bottle rings, and whales are entangled in plastic nets or lines. We cannot hide from what we are doing to the ocean. This is where coastal cleanups come in…but cleanups cannot be where things end.
Coastal cleanups are immensely productive at keeping more trash from reaching our threatened marine ecosystems. When plastic reaches the coasts and tides rise, this waste enters the ocean. By interrupting this flow of waste, we can collectively stop some of that 1.4 billion pounds from reaching surrounding reefs, harming delicate wildlife, and reaching even the deepest depths of the ocean. Coastal cleanups are the opportunity to actively do our part in ocean conservation. These events have the power to do more than pick up trash. Through cleanups, we have the power to save wildlife and benefit the economy. Studies have shown that in comparison to other beach activities, cleanups are more awakening. There is something extremely powerful about tangibly seeing your impacts on the beach. The next time you can participate in one, bring a friend. The more people that see how humankind is affecting the ocean, the more progress can be made.
So…can coastal cleanups actually help save our seas? The answer is both yes and no. While coastal cleanups have numerous benefits to our marine ecosystems, they are not a cure-all. The root of the trash issue lies in our society’s dependence on convenience and single-use plastics, and poor waste management. We CANNOT continue to rely on picking up our waste at the end of the cycle. We are inputting so much waste into the environment, our landfills are filling up and we are overworking our recycling capabilities. Many of us find content in participating in coastal cleanups, but we cannot fall back on this. We need to make anticipatory changes and work our hardest to stop trash from reaching beaches. These changes must happen on an individual and daily basis. There are many easy changes one can make! It starts with eliminating our dependence on single use plastics. It’s a simple as purchasing a metal straw. Bring your own cups for coffee or tea (it tastes better anyways). Choose bar options for soaps and shampoos. Research companies that take a vow to eliminate shipping waste and extra packaging. Use reusable bags for groceries and try using mesh ones for produce. Choose items for the bulk section at stores and cut out the packaging. Choose farmers markets or local vendors. Every choice you make is a conscious one, so start being more intentional in every vote you have as a consumer.
If you don’t know where to begin, or maybe you already have made changes in your life and want to do more, there is no shortage of educational materials online. A few organizations making huge waves in this area, include 4Ocean (https://4ocean.com/) and the Ocean Conservancy (https://oceanconservancy.org/trash-free-seas/international-coastal-cleanup/). Look up what organizations are in your area. Attend each coastal cleanup event you can! These are great ways to stay active, stay passionate, and get more people involved.
We are the only protectors the earth and ocean have. The ocean is full of waste because we have so carelessly put it there. While there are many threats the ocean is facing, eliminating and cleaning up our waste is something we can change right now. Coastal cleanups can help save our seas. Just as beaches are our bridge into the marine world, coastal cleanups can be what bridges humans and conservation. The effort can’t stop there, though. Everything that we can do to benefit the ocean, we should absolutely do. That means we can benefit the ocean with every choice, every day. Clean up. Do your part. By harnessing the power of people worldwide, we have the power to change the course of history.