Why Beach Clean-Ups are Important
The ocean benefits us in more ways than we can imagine.
It’s an experience that appeals to our senses: from the sound of surf breaking on the shore, the feel of wet sand between our toes, to the tang of salt flavoring the sea breezes.
Why is this so? It’s because water has a natural capacity to make us attach to every wave. Being close to any bodies of water makes us happier and calmer, and more emotionally healthy. And as I found out, this is backed up by research.
Marine biologist Wallace J. Nichols refers to this phenomenon as the Blue Mind. It’s how our minds become meditative when we are near, in, or under the water. It’s the reason why therapists are looking at water sports as an effective therapy to treat PTSD, addiction, and more.
Being near water boosts creativity and lowers stress and anxiety. Why do you think that we, surfers, have a relaxed vibe? The answer is basic—being attuned to the sea and its rhythms increase our overall sense of well-being and happiness. It also provides a safe environment for work-outs.
Here's what you need to know about beach clean-up:
The Role of Beaches in the Ecosystem
Beaches are an essential part of humans’ lives. In addition to the range of recreational activities, they can also play a role in mitigating climate change. Beaches protect residents living near the ocean by serving as a buffer against the high winds and waves of powerful storms and help drive economic activity important to nearby communities.
They also provide permanent habitats for various plants and animals. A lot of marine animals depend on the beach ecosystem. However, the naked eye can’t see many of them as they are millimeters small or buried in the sand. These are organisms that play an essential role in seawater filtration and nutrient recycling.
With little tweaks in their habitats such as having plastics in them, aquatic animals will be greatly affected.
Some depend on the beach environment as a nursery area for fish fry or nesting sites and rookeries for turtles and birds. Higher up on the marine food chain, the beaches are a vital feeding ground for birds and terrestrial wildlife.
Some marine mammals, such as sea lions and seals, also need a clean beach to rest, molt, breed, and give birth. They can also be lounging on the sand because they are warming themselves underneath the sun. It’s always a treat to share our beaches with other creatures that are part of the ecosystem and benefit from what beaches can offer.
A beach is a sensitive environment that supports numerous plants and animals. All of these benefits, of course, depend on our coasts being safe and healthy. That is why beach clean-up is essential because it improves the coastal and ocean ecosystem.
Beach clean-ups are attractive opportunities to do large-scale rehabilitation work on our beaches. But we don’t have to wait for the next one to start cleaning up. Taking responsibility for our plastic trash is already a step in the right direction.
— Derek Dodds, Wave Tribe Founder
Because Pollution on our Beaches is Real, Bro
I’m not just talking about the plastic littering that occurs on beaches all over the world. There are various types of pollution on the beach. Annually, there are seven billion tons of debris deposited on beaches. These are health hazards for us who use the beach recreationally and an environmental hazard for the marine biodiversity that depends on it.
Garbage, such as cans, plastic bags, and other containers from picnics, contributes to beach pollution. Hospital waste, such as contaminated needles and broken surgical instruments, has even washed up on beaches. Beachgoers leaving behind their trash and fishers losing or discarding fishing nets in the ocean are also sources.
We already have beaches with plastic going up to a foot, containing thousands of marine animals that starved to death for consuming plastic that looks like food. Plastic in the ocean gets broken into bits all the time, and they become tinier pieces. No net or filter will be pointless to get our waste and keep these animals from eating them. We have already gone from microplastics to nano-plastics which can become airborne.
In November 2018, a dead sperm whale that washed ashore in a national park in Indonesia set off a flurry of news articles because of the gory cause of its death. Some 13 pounds of plastic were found inside its body and most likely caused its demise. That’s around 1,000 pieces of plastic and also included 115 cups, 25 bags, four bottles, and a pair of flip-flops.
Yes, plastic forms a great bulk of the debris that washes up on our beaches. According to Ocean Conservancy’s TIDES Database, about 60% of beach litter worldwide is plastic. And given how dangerous plastic is, it’s not going away even if we just leave it lying around.
So the right thing to do would be to clean up the coast and cease throwing our garbage straight into the oceans. Reducing pollution through beach clean-up is a critical way to protect beaches and marine animals. Visitors should also leave plants and seaweed alone. Taking seashells or live animals from the beach also destroys the habitat.
What's a Beach Clean Up?
A beach clean-up is essentially a volunteer activity among concerned citizens that regularly takes place along coastlines worldwide. People pitch in to collect beach trash to make the beach a more pleasant and safer place for everyone. Cleaning the beach also improves the coastal and ocean ecosystem by ensuring that none of the trash kills marine life or is toxic enough to disrupt the aquatic life cycle.
A beach clean-up is also an opportunity to gather new data about the state of our coasts and the types of trash that pollutes them. By identifying the most harmful debris items, environmental groups can find ways to stop them from entering the ocean or being littered again on beaches.
We might not immediately see the effects of clean-ups, but it surely has a big impact to nature.
For example, the world’s most crucial clean-up effort has accumulated many data over the years to show that plastic straws are among the most common debris found in the trash collected. The plastic straw is deadly for birds because they often mistake it for food and ingest it. The straw ends up choking them to death or clogging their intestines, so they die from starvation.
Ocean Conservancy then launched a challenge for ocean lovers to stop using a straw. More than 25,000 people have taken the challenge leading to more than 5 million plastic straws potentially ending up in the ocean or the landfill.
How Does Beach Clean-ups Help?
Think of the beach as a bridge between the land and the marine environment. It’s a critical biodiversity area. Cleaning our beaches is a step towards cleaning our oceans.
There are also economic benefits to cleaning our beaches. Coastal and marine waters support over 28 million jobs. Here in America, our beaches are top tourist destinations generating 85 percent of all US tourism venues. When polluted beaches happen, they result in a high increase of illnesses among the local population and hurt the local economy. Economists have estimated that a typical swimming day is worth $35 per beach visitor, so the economic loss is significant when the beach is closed.
Beach clean-ups are also a learning opportunity for citizens. There’s a significant difference between seeing photos of plastic pollution online and witnessing it on an actual beach. It makes one think about the impact of the non-biodegradable stuff we are using and how it affects the environment.
They also say what goes in the ocean ends up inside your body, mainly if you love eating seafood. Based on a study conducted at Ghent University in Belgium, the average seafood eater is consuming 11,000 tiny plastic fragments every year. The harmful chemicals in these plastics can accumulate in our bodies over time and eventually cause health problems. For example, bluefin tuna that Japanese restaurants use as their favorite sushi dish to serve may not be safe. Bluefin tuna can have a high mercury level which is toxic for the body. So beach cleaning means creating a healthier world.
How to Organize a Beach Clean-up
You don’t need to wait for a local beach clean-up so that you can start cleaning your beach. You can organize one. All you need is some planning and a group of volunteers that are as passionate as you are. Just remember to do these basic steps.
Choose a beach in need of a clean-up
The ideal beach should be nearby with easy access for your volunteers. You can ask around from your local department for some recommendations.
Pick an ideal schedule
The ideal time would be early morning when the beach would be empty, and on the weekend, when every volunteer will have free time to help. Most DIY sites suggest holding the clean-up early spring or late fall. Also, check the tide charts; low tides give you more ground to clean rather than high tides.
Get permission from local authorities
For public beaches, the event might need permits. Letting them know about the event would also allow them to join to have a more extensive group clean-up.
You can tie up the clean-up activity with a local event to get more volunteers. Or you can send out an invite among your network or post it on social media for more mileage.
Plan out your logistics and your materials recovery and segregation plan
Prepare your cleaning supplies. The standard tools are recyclable or canvas garbage bags, biodegradable protective gloves, trash sticks, rakes, sunscreen. Have an emergency plan for accidents.
You will also need to create a plan for the segregation and disposal of the trash you collected.
Wikihow is an excellent resource for a more detailed plan in finding out how to organize a successful clean-up activity.
Cleaning Up Isn’t Hard to Do
As surfers, we’ve seen more than our share of trash littering the beaches. Ever tried barreling through a wave full of plastic litter? There’s a picture of that in National Geographic. It’s going to make you think about how widespread plastic pollution is spreading through the world’s oceans.
Beach clean-ups are attractive opportunities to do large-scale rehabilitation work on our beaches. But we don’t have to wait for the next one to start cleaning up. Taking responsibility for our plastic trash is already a step in the right direction. Becoming mindful of how we use and dispose of things is one way to make this world and our oceans better for the next generation.
Beach clean-up is one of the most fun and fulfilling activities that you can do outside, see the natural beauty of the waters near you, and spend your day doing something worthwhile and extraordinary.
Life’s a beach, so they say. But don’t you think it’s time to amend it to “Life’s a clean beach.”? I certainly think so.
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