Colleen Rankin is a debris cleanup veteran. She lives in Blue Fox Bay, Alaska. Colleen regularly hauls debris from miles away back to her home, where she re-uses whatever she can and stores the rest for eventual disposal.
I am fortunate to live in one of the most remote locations on Earth. I have one seasonal neighbor 5 miles away and another family 25 miles from there. The closest town is 40 miles from us. All of us live on different islands separated by the powerful waters of the Gulf of Alaska. To live here is to witness the rhythm of the interdependent cycles of life on these beaches ̶ the sea depositing kelp and seashells on the shorelines, creating what I call the line of life. We see bears, birds and other animals foraging in them. We call it the ocean’s gift of nutrition. I have felt a part of an ancient world. But that is changing. And even here on the coast of Alaska, I’m surrounded every day by reminders of people from far away places.
That’s because the beaches near my home are literally covered in plastic, trash and netting. I take my skiff out and fill it with debris, stopping only because the boat is full to capacity. The beaches are accumulating trash at an alarming rate, and I am giving back to this beautiful place that has enriched my life so much in the most obvious way I can. And that is cleaning the beaches, sometimes the same beach over and over.
I separate the debris so that records can be kept to find out what the trash consists of. The largest growing category is plastic. Almost every piece of plastic debris I find that can fit in a bear’s mouth has bite marks on it – the bears and other animals are fascinated with plastic, and they chew it.
Every time I see a plastic bottle lying on the beautiful beach, I wonder how many of these one-use items do we use in a year? It’s a real chance for us to look at our lives as a species and ask, “What are we gaining by their use? Is it to save time? And are we actually improving our lives with that time we think we are saving?”
I used to feel like it was impossible to conquer all of this plastic and trash in the ocean, but now I’m amazed by what I’ve seen happen in the last year with the increase in awareness and the motivation of people like you to reduce the amount of plastic you use every day.
I know now that I’m not alone. Last year, 648,015 people like you volunteered at International Coastal Clean-up events across the country, and cleaned 12,329,332 pounds off of 12,910 miles of coast.
Ocean Conservancy has just released its latest Data Report, and you’d be surprised by what they’ve found! Items like straws, bottle caps and plastic bags are among the items you’ll find in the Top 10 List, and they’re all things that you and I can reduce.
I hope you’ll join me in the fight to prevent plastic pollution in our ocean. I know firsthand that every one of us can make a difference – from my home in Alaska to your town.