Friday, November 3, 2017

International Coastal Cleanup

For years I was an avid participant in the International Coastal Clean Up, and had many sequential years of promotional t-shirts to prove it. Over time, as my career progressed, I was on the front line and out in the field far less, which led to me being tied up with other responsibilities and I was no longer able to attend this iconic event as it took place all over the world. This time around, I was all set to miss it – again. Then Hurricane Irma swept our coastlines and filled our streets with water and debris.
The hurricane, along with the ensuing damage and loss of power throughout the region, led to a huge number of facilities with live animals having to delay their events. I would not have made the September event, but I was able to join the beautiful and unique Sandoway Discovery Center in Delray Beach.
The International Coastal Cleanup is an annual event put on by the Ocean Conservancy and they have a great site to help you find one close to home check out the Ocean Conservancy's Coastal Cleanup page.

Hundreds of thousands of volunteers band together for an amazing joint effort to tackle the trauma caused by marine debris – a problem that is directly related to human interactions and therefore a problem that can be directly addressed and the results are quite measurable. But despite the well-meaning outpour of individuals who make a shining appearance once a year, I have found that too many show up for this with very specific and limited intentions:
  • Many of the teens show up for the community service hours for school.
  • Many of the adults to show up for free beach parking and a t-shirt.
  • Many of kids don’t even know why they are there, but hey – it’s the ocean, let’s go!
I wanted to be different. I wanted to do more, but also understood the pressures of life would allow only a limited amount of time. Dedication aside, I wanted to share this experience and make it something special. So, I recruited my 8-yr old son to join me. We spent well over a week discussing the importance of trash in the ocean, and what the significance of the cleanup meant. We looked up photos and shared videos of various marine animal rescues, like the poor Olive Ridley sea turtle with a straw up its nostril that went viral (in case you missed it: Sea Turtle Straw video  WARNING, there is strong language in this 8-min video).

On October 7, we trucked down to the Sandoway Discovery Center. They had a rough time post-Irma and I know some of the staff there. Part of my son’s reward, unbeknownst to him, was a trip to Sandoway immediately after our contribution to the cleanup concluded. He was excited and we arrived before 8:30am ready to work. We checked in, and geared up with a recycling bag, trash bag, grabber and a new tool to track our trash – the Clean Swell app downloaded quickly to my smart phone. Jace commandeered the trash picker and we were ready to rock!

We dropped off some items in the car, and while there my son must have credit for a great idea – he suggested we start our cleanup in the parking lot and on the walk to the beach itself. Nearly half our trash bag was filled before we ever even saw the ocean.
Once our toes hit the sand, the beach was crawling with volunteers and Jace commented on how he hoped we would still find trash to gather. This is when I received a true wake up – the wrack line was dense and the beachcombers were not yet out. People wandered around aimlessly looking from only a standing position, and were missing copious amounts of tiny trash. Bits of plastic that crumbled into exponentially more pieces were scattered within the weeds.
Somebody was taking it all in with a smile!
But we persevered from the waterline to the dune and back down again for half a mile, taking short breaks now and again to enjoy the sunshine, wind, waves and let mommy add the data to our list. Bottle caps and bits of plastic or foam dominated our search. Our trash bag filled while the blue recycling bag stayed light and near empty. We decided to walk along Ocean Blvd on the way back to the Discovery Center, and pick up trash along the road as well. By the time we dropped off the bags of anti-treasure, it was hot and sticky. I can easily admit disappointment at seeing so many bags left near empty, knowing so many tiny pieces of plastic remained out in the sand.

What appeared to be 'clean' was far from it
A simple suggestion to rehydrate and visit the inside of the Center turned the next hour and a half into a new chapter of exploration. I know we made a real effort during the cleanup and most certainly earned our shirts, but above all else it felt good to be on the front lines again.
Most coastal communities have regular beach cleanups, and local organizations can usually get you to the right place. Our local resource is Keep Palm Beach County Beautiful: a non-profit organization that is a great way to find which organizations are working together when and where. For those who just need a few hours of volunteer service, projects like cleanups are easy and rarely require confusing paperwork or time-consuming waits for approval.
It is important to keep it fun and interesting. Playing games like trash bingo or having planned rewards post-collection can really help and introducing younger ones to the significance of what happens to trash left outside is what not only changes habits but has a lasting impact. Every tiny bit adds up to huge gains, and keep challenging yourself to make a difference!

Okay, sometimes he can be a little dramatic...

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