Volunteers mark the data card while throwing away trash at the International Coastal Cleanup at James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge in Kahuku, Hawaii. credit — Elyse Butler
Take your pick: 41 blue whales, 10 Boeing 747 jumbo jets, 5,000 tons or 10 million pounds. Whichever one you prefer, that’s roughly the weight of trash that was collected by volunteers during Ocean Conservancy’s 2012 International Coastal Cleanup (Cleanup). More than 10 million pounds of trash – that’s an astounding amount.
Each year in September, citizen scientists around the world mobilize during the Cleanup to remove plastic trash and other debris from the world’s shorelines, waterways and underwater habitats. Tallies of trash recorded by the more than 550,000 volunteers who participated in the 2012 Cleanup are a snapshot of the persistent and proliferating problem of trash on our beaches and in our ocean.
We are very excited to announce that our own Kara Lankford received the Alabama PALS (People Against a Littered State) Governor’s award for her long-time work with the Alabama Coastal Cleanup. She was recently honored at an awards ceremony in Montgomery.
We are not surprised others have taken notice of Kara’s commitment and enthusiasm to keeping our ocean clean and healthy. “Not everyone has a job they like, much less one they can say they love,” she said of the award. “In that respect I feel honored. I love my job. Since graduating from college I have had the opportunity to work in my field of environmental sciences and have always loved my work. Winning an award for doing something that brings joy and gratification isn’t something I expected. However, it is always nice to be recognized for something you are passionate about.”
The Alabama Coastal Cleanup first appeared on Kara’s radar when she was an intern with the Mobile Bay National Estuary Program. One of her supervisors asked if she’d like to help out because of her success as zone captain for the Mobile Bay causeway site. This sounded like a great experience and a fun day so she was eager to help out. Little did she know this site was the largest in the state of Alabama and saw between 200-300 volunteers!
The team worked tirelessly that morning to get volunteers signed in, hand out trash bags, weigh the trash individually with a bathroom scale and reward participants with t-shirts. It was a long, exhausting day and she was completely inspired by the idea of everyone around the world cleaning our waterways of trash on the same day. She felt that seeing the amazement on the Boy Scout troops’ and families’ faces as they filled the dumpsters to capacity was the best kind of marine debris education anyone could offer. As she says, “It was a hands-on, real life example of how marine debris can impact our ocean and I was hooked.”
Kara has been the zone captain for the Mobile Bay causeway site for about 8 years now. This past year, 2012, the team had a record of over 300 volunteers. Congratulations to Kara, and here’s to many more years as the zone captain for the causeway.
The leatherback sea turtle has spent over 100 million years living beneath the ocean’s waves. It is the longest surviving and one of the largest reptiles on earth. With a heritage that goes back to the dinosaur era, the leatherback sea turtle’s impressive list of accomplishments is virtually unmatched.
Leatherback sea turtles:
Weigh in between 500 and 2,000 pounds
Can reach lengths from 4 to 8 feet long
Live up to 100 years
Dive to extreme depths, often deeper than 4,000 feet
Swim great distances, such as traveling over 7,000 miles
It’s impossible not to be if you work in the ocean trash world. Every year International Coastal Cleanup volunteers pickup more cigarette butts off our beaches than any other item by an order of magnitude. Since the Cleanup’s inception in 1986, cigarette butts have been the number one item on Ocean Conservancy’s annual Top Ten list, which highlights the most persistent items of ocean trash found globally. And while 2012 Cleanup data are still being compiled, I suspect cigarette butts will retain their title for another year.
What’s the big deal you might ask? Well inside each of those butts is a filter—unfiltered cigarettes excluded—made of cellulose acetate, a slow-degrading plastic. These plastic fibers are packed tightly together to create a filter, which often resembles cotton in appearance. So even though Cleanup volunteers have kept more than 55 million cigarette butts off beaches and out of the ocean over the years, the ultimate fate of these tiny plastics is still the landfill because there’s simply no value in a butt…or is there?