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 we are naturally drawn to the water. Being close to the sea, lake or rivers makes us not only happier and calmer but also 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. Basically, 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 cool vibe? It’s because being attuned to the sea and its rhythms increases our overall sense of well-being and happiness while also providing a safe environment for work-outs.
Here's what you need to know about beach clean-up:
The Role of Beaches in the Ecosystem
And it’s not just us that benefit from hanging around beaches. A lot of marine animals also depend on the beach ecosystem. Most can’t be seen by the naked eye because they are millimeters small or are buried in the sand but they provide an important role in seawater filtration and nutrient recycling.
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.
Beaches can also play a role in mitigating the effects of climate change. By acting as a buffer, it can protect the coastline from the damaging effects of high winds and waves of powerful storms.
All of these benefits, of course, depend on our beaches being safe, clean and healthy.
Clean-ups are wonderful opportunities to do large scale rehabilitation work in our beaches. But we don’t have to wait for the next one in order to start cleaning up.
— Derek Dodds, Wave Tribe Founder
Because Pollution on our Beaches is Real, Bro
I’m not just talking about the plastic littering that occurs in beaches all over the world. There are various types of pollution in the beach. Annually, there are seven billion tons of debris which are deposited on beaches and these are not only a health hazard for us who use the beach recreationally but also an environmental hazard for the marine biodiversity that depend on it.
Just last November, a dead sperm whale that was washed ashore on 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 mostly likely caused its death. That’s around 1,000 pieces of plastic and also included 115 cups, 25 bags, 4 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 it up.
What's a Beach Clean Up?
A beach clean up is essentially a volunteer activity among concerned citizens that takes place regularly along coastlines around the world. People pitch in to collect beach trash to make the beach a nicer and safer place for everyone. Cleaning the beach also improves the coastal and ocean ecosystem by making sure that none of the trash kills marine life or is toxic enough to disrupt the marine life cycle.
A beach clean up is also an opportunity to gather fresh 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 in beaches.
For example, the world’s largest clean–up effort has accumulated a lot of data over the years to show that plastic straws are among the most common debris found in the trash collected. 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 straw. More than 25,000 people have taken the challenge leading to more than 5 million plastic straws from potentially ending up in the ocean or the landfill.
How do Beach Clean-ups Help?
Think of the beach as a bridge between the land and 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 do not only result to a high increase of illnesses among the local population, but they also hurt the local economy. In fact, economists have estimated that a typical swimming day is worth $35 per beach visitor so the economic loss is pretty much significant when the beach is closed.
Beach clean-ups are also a learning opportunity for citizens. There’s a major 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 that we are using and how it’s affecting the environment.
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 as passionate as you are in getting rid of the trash in our beaches. 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 a 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 be an opportunity to invite them to join so you will have a bigger group to clean up with.
• Find volunteers
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 usual 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 that you collected.
For a more detailed plan, Wikihow is an excellent resource 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 with plastic litter? There’s a picture of that in National Geographic. It’s really going to make you think about how widespread plastic pollution is spreading through the world’s oceans.
Clean-ups are wonderful opportunities to do large scale rehabilitation work in our beaches. But we don’t have to wait for the next one in order to start cleaning up. Taking responsibility for our own plastic trash is already a step in the right direction. Becoming mindful of how we use and dispose things is one way that we can start making this world and our oceans better for the next generation.
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.