Beach season is finally upon us! This Memorial Day, people all over the country (myself included) will flock to the coasts to soak up some much-needed sunshine. But nothing ruins a good vacation day like a beach covered in trash—especially because trash poses a huge threat to our ocean and the animals that call it home.
Ocean Conservancy is committed to keeping our beaches and ocean trash free. For 30 years we have sponsored the International Coastal Cleanup, where 11.5 million volunteers from 153 countries have collected 220 million pounds of trash. And we’re not the only ones who care about ocean trash: Every day, all over the world, concerned people take the problem into their own hands by cleaning up their local waterways.
True confessions: I’m secretly a total Harry Potter nerd. Okay, maybe it’s not so secret… (#TeamHufflepuff anyone?) Which is why I did a literal happy dance in my living room when I saw Emma Watson’s gown for last night’s Met Gala.
Nothing ruins a sweeping ocean vista like…trash. Not only are piles of plastic an eyesore, they’re seriously harmful to the countless animals who call the ocean home. This Earth Day, take a minute to see how you can decrease your negative impacts on the ocean (and let’s be real, with 71% of the globe covered in water, shouldn’t we be calling this “Ocean Day”, anyway?).
Here at Ocean Conservancy, we’ve been working hard to keep trash off of our beaches and out of our oceans for three decades—but we can’t do it alone. Whether you’re a casual coastal visitor or frequent beach bum, here are five easy things you can do to keep our ocean trash free.
The following is a guest blog from Dr. Chelsea Rochman, who is currently serving as a Smith Postdoctoral Fellow in Conservation Biology.
For decades, we have heard concerns regarding the entanglement of marine mammals and sea turtles in marine debris. We see images of seabirds, turtles and whales washing up with bellies full of trash. And more recently, we see constant media attention on microplastics—small pieces of plastic debris less than five millimeters in size. Marine debris is everywhere. It is reported from the poles to the equator and from the surface to the seafloor. It has been recorded in tens of thousands of individual animals encompassing nearly 600 species.
With such vast and abundant contamination, comes a perception that marine debris is a large threat to the ecology of our ocean. As part of a working group at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) facilitated by Ocean Conservancy and focused on marine debris, I worked with a group of scientists to ask if the weight of evidence demonstrating impacts matched the weight of this concern? The findings of our analysis have just been published.
During a single day of coastal and waterway cleanups, volunteers around the world collected nearly 990,000 plastic beverage bottles and 975,000 plastic bags. These efforts are truly amazing but the amount of debris in the environment, especially our ocean, is still daunting. Along with cleaning up what’s out there, we need to be proactive in stopping these common consumer items from reaching the environment in the first place.
Thankfully, there is a stellar group of sixth grade students who are showing us the way. The Kittredge Magnet School’s “Recycling Cougars” of DeKalb, GA have been working to turn plastic water bottle and plastic bag recycling into a reality in their school and community.
I looked up just as the water above me darkened. Within an arm’s length, a massive whale shark passed over my head, its tail methodically propelling it forward. I caught its improbably small eye looking intently at me as it glided past. Directly behind came a second whale shark and then another.
But I wasn’t swimming in the ocean – I was 30 feet below the surface, at the bottom of the 6.3 million gallon Ocean Voyager exhibit at the Georgia Aquarium. As a marine scientist, I’ve logged a lot of dives in places from tropical reefs to temperate kelp forests. But I’d never been this up close and personal with the world’s biggest fish. In the wild, whale sharks can grow to 40 feet and nearly 50,000 pounds; those at the Georgia Aquarium are a relatively “small” 25 feet in length.
Ocean Conservancy strives for a clean, healthy ocean for all. But the ocean trash problem is vast, which means we all need to do our part. We are advocates for reducing unnecessary waste, reusing items as often as possible and recycling as much as we can.
In honor of America Recycles Day, Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas team is diving into recycling—with an ocean spin. We reached out to experts at the National Waste & Recycling Association (NWRA) to better understand recycling and to learn why some plastics collected at beach and waterway cleanups can be tricky to make anew.