by Erin Loury, Ichthyology Lab
I recently witnessed some true beachside heroism while running (ok, ok, jogging) on my local sandy stretch. An older couple was out for their morning walk along the beach – and between them they were steadily filling two big bags, one for trash, the other for recycling. Had my heart not already been pounding from long-overdue exertion, the sight surely would have warmed it to the core.
You too can be a beach hero this Saturday, September 20th. It’s International Coastal Cleanup Day! Check out the Ocean Conservancy to find out more and also register for a cleanup near you. For those of us that study the ocean (or just love it), it’s a great way to say thank you to our coastlines and waterways, to keep them healthy and beautiful. Trash is an unbelievably big problem in the ocean (think the size of Texas big) and its critters (like the Laysan albatross). But you can help – check out this video about what the Coastal Cleanup Day is all about!
Obviously, you don’t need to wait for a special day to clean up your beach. I find it hard to jog pass by an empty Doritos bag or beer can on the sand without picking it up (yeah, I’m one of “those” people, but gosh darn it, I’m proud too!). While stooping for trash does turn a leisurely run into “red light green light,” it’s amazing how good it feels, in that Captain Planet sort of way.
When I saw that tidy couple, I made my way over with a discarded plastic bottle in hand, and thanked them for their efforts. They bagged my bottle and said they were just tired of seeing others trash their favorite spot – so they decided to do something about it. Simple. I guess I could have asked for their names, but perhaps like all superheros they prefer to walk among us, unknown….
Ultimately, the bigger term solution will have to do with completely revamping our one-use, disposal and throwaway lifestyle, and rethinking our whole relationship with trash, our obsession with plastic. But in the meantime, little efforts to keep the mess in check send a big message about how you feel about our beaches and oceans, about the wildlife they support. Even if picking up after others is not your idea of fun in a sun, keeping a particular eye out for these blacklisted items can make a big difference: fishing line, plastic bags, balloons and six-pack rings are all particularly dangerous hazards for animals like birds, seals, and sea turtles to tangle and choke on. So be a beach hero and bag that trash!
You might be surprised what kind of treasures you can also find beachside: I once rescued a forlorn volleyball from the waves (and almost-certain death by seagull pecking). I harbor the suspicion that it just might be Wilson, Tom Hanks’ loyal companion set adrift in the movie Castaway.
What’s the craziest human artifact that you’ve found washed up on a beach? Write us a comment!