I had the great fortune to head south of the equator last September for Ocean Conservancy’s 29th International Coastal Cleanup. VIDA Peru, Ocean Conservancy’s longtime Cleanup partner in Peru, invited me to participate in a weeklong series of events on ocean trash, culminating with one of their country’s signature Cleanup events at Marquez Beach. Having been my first time to Peru, and South America for that matter, I was uncertain of the beach and waterway conditions I’d find. Unfortunately, as I spoke more and more with folks from VIDA Peru in advance of the Cleanups, my expectations of clean beaches were quickly dispelled.
I asked Arturo Medina, President of VIDA Peru, what the major culprits were for ocean trash in Peru. He noted that “the waste infrastructure is drastically lacking in Peru to handle the increased waste flows. Ultimately, it all ends up in the rivers, on the beaches and flowing into the sea. Legal and illegal dumpsites located directly on the beaches are also a major issue, yielding steady streams of debris into the water.” I witnessed this first hand as one such site was visible on the beach as I sat on my surfboard offshore—dump truck after dump truck offloading rubbish onto the sand.
Some people would call Belize paradise. Having recently returned, I can’t say I disagree, but I also saw threats to the beauty on the surface. I spent a week in Belize researching the connection between waste management, plastic pollution and ocean health in this Central American country. As Chief Scientist, I’m working closely with our Trash Free Seas® team to build on our 30-year history of protecting our ocean from the growing threat of ocean trash.
I toured much of the country with independent consultant Ted Siegler from DSM Environmental Services, gaining a firsthand perspective on how recent investments in waste management systems in Belize are improving ocean health but learning how much farther the country needs to go. A former British colony, Belize is frequented by tourists for its beautiful beaches and tropical breezes. But Ted and I visited many sights never seen by these outsiders. The upshot? Trash is a major problem in Belize, as it is in many developing countries. And it is increasingly clear that this has big consequences for the health of the ocean.
Frequently used for take-out containers, disposable drink cups and other single-use products, EPS is a hazard to our environment—not only because of its brittle nature and propensity to fragment into small pieces—but also because it can’t be recycled, economically. This is compounded by the fact that we use so much of it! Last year, the city of New York collected about 28,500 tons of polystyrene! (That’s a lot of take-out!)
What’s haunting our ocean? Ghost crabs or witch flounder? What about devil rays or goblin sharks? Sure, there are tons of monsters and ghouls hidden beneath the waves, but like in any scary movie, the most dangerous villains may be the least obvious.
Let’s take cigarette butts for example. When you think of the ocean, they’re probably not the first thing or even among the top ten things you think of. Yet, they’re the most common specter we find on our beaches year after year. In 2013, volunteers collected over 2 million cigarette butts.
Food wrappers are other trolls lurking around our beaches. International Coastal Cleanup volunteers removed more than 1.6 million of them last year alone.
The 29th annual International Coastal Cleanup is tomorrow! I’m extremely excited to see the amazing impact volunteers will have – and I can only image all the weird items we’ll find on our beaches.
Marine debris isn’t an ocean problem – it’s a people problem. That means people are the solution. More than 648,000 volunteers cleaned almost 13,000 miles of beaches and shorelines last year alone. That massive effort collectively removed 12.3 million pounds of trash worldwide!
You can be part of this marine debris solution by joining us tomorrow! A great way to turn the tide on trash is to sign up to clean up your local beach, shoreline or park as part of this year’s International Coastal Cleanup. Preventing the trash we find on beaches and shorelines from ever entering the ocean isn’t the only way of making our seas trash free. However, it’s an important step to protecting endangered animals that are threatened by marine debris.
The International Coastal Cleanup is only two days away! We can’t wait to see all of you at your local beaches and waterways this weekend! You can check out our map to find the cleanup location nearest you, if you haven’t already.
If you’re planning on coming to the cleanup, we recommend that you wear closed-toe shoes, sunscreen and a hat. If you have work gloves or a bucket, feel free to bring them along, but our Cleanup Coordinators will provide any other supplies you may need.