Coastal Clean Ups

Coastal clean up volunteers at work. via: California Coastal Commission

Saturday was the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup Day.  Having lived on the San Francisco bay in Marin County, I’ve seen both the great need for clean up efforts, as well the beautiful results achieved by diligently picking up along the beaches and waterways.  Communities on the water seem to understand especially well why reducing litter is important.  There are also a number of California-based ocean research organizations that have done a tremendous job of educating the public about human-caused pollution at sea. The Algalita Marine Research Foundation is one of the most prominent.  Their studies have focused on a vast area of the ocean, the Northern Pacific gyre, where human debris— mostly plastics—are in far greater abundance than plankton. That’s a shocking and terrible fact. (See below for a Ted Talk video of Captain Charles Moore on the depressing state of plastic pollution in our oceans.)

Here in Virginia, communities are dealing with the same constant onslaught of litter along local waterways, and sadly we have our own Atlantic gyres (a Northern and a Southern) of manmade detritus swept together by ocean currents.

The good news is that these gyres “spit out” much of the garbage onto beaches, so beach cleanups are an effective way of both preventing land-based trash from getting out into the ocean and removing stuff that has been pushed ashore by the gyres.

The Washington Post chatted with a few volunteers at the coastal clean up in Virginia this past weekend. Keeping tallies of the types of trash collected, one volunteer observed, “It’s mainly plastic bottles and Styrofoam…”

I’ll be writing more about what this year’s coastal clean up tallies tell us about 21st century impacts on our shared natural resources, and how we can help by making choices and demands, as individuals and communities, for a cleaner and safer environment.