I recently started writing about ocean views over at the National Geographic News Watch blog. My first post explores the trash we found during this year’s International Coastal Cleanup and what we learned during a subsequent research project dubbed “Trashlab.” As you might expect, the things we leave behind on the beach reveal a lot about our society as a whole. As I write in my post:
Bags from some of the beaches were bursting with bottles and cans of every variety. Beaches in the more rural northern portion of Santa Cruz County are well known by locals as “party beaches” and the trash left behind certainly confirms it. Beer is the clear beverage of choice but interestingly, brews range from the cheapest of swill to the finest of local microbrews. It appears that beer drinkers are equal-opportunity litterers. I expected beaches in the more populated areas, frequented by families and tourists might be cleaner, but only the nature of debris, not quantity, changed. Food wrappers of all types – from fast food takeout containers to every possible variety of potato chips, cracker, candy and other snack food were plentiful. It was clear – folks don’t come to the beach to eat health food.
After we removed and weighed these and the other obvious items, a mass of unidentifiable junk, including large amounts of plastic fragments, remained. The conclusion was apparent: pretty much anything you can imagine will, unfortunately, be found on the beach.
Read more on what we learned about ocean trash and what we can do to stop it at National Geographic News Watch. You can also follow my posts here.
Ocean Conservancy scientists George Leonard and Carmen Yeung sort through trash found on Santa Cruz beaches to better understand what’s ending up in the ocean.
Not all trash is created equal. Why does it matter? For the person who tosses their water bottle or chip wrapper into a garbage can, maybe it doesn’t. But for the integrity and health of our waterways, beaches and ocean and its animals, it indisputably does.
Over the past 27 years, through our annual International Coastal Cleanup, Ocean Conservancy has compiled the world’s largest and most comprehensive database on ocean trash. During this time, the data collection methods used by Cleanup volunteers counted one cigarette butt as equal to one plastic bottle or one fishing net. On paper this quantification may make sense, but in the marine environment these items pose very different threats to animals and ecosystems. Large scale ecological impacts of marine debris in the ocean remain unknown, but Scientists at the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS) are currently researching this very question to determine the magnitude of impact for different types of marine debris.
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A surfer catches a wave at Steamer Lane, one of the iconic breaks included the new Santa Cruz Surfing Reserve. Photo credit: DavidDennisPhotos.com flickr stream
On April 28, 2012, Santa Cruz received international recognition as a World Surfing Reserve– one of only four spots so designated around the globe. Santa Cruz joins Malibu, Manly Beach in Australia and Ericeira in Portugal on the list of honor.
Launched in 2009 by Save the Waves Coalition (based out of Santa Cruz County), National Surfing Reserves (an Australian organization) and the International Surfing Association, World Surfing Reserve’s official mission is to “proactively identify, designate and preserve outstanding waves, surf zones and their surrounding environments around the world.” World Surfing Reserves are dedicated only after a rigorous nomination and selection process that requires local communities to commit to ongoing monitoring and management, ensuring the surf breaks are protected into the future.
Santa Cruz’s application ranked highly on all World Surfing Reserve criteria:
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