A trash-free vision
I bet your last visit to the beach had litter of some sort hiding in the sand. But what if we could change that-what would it take, and is it possible? If you pick up a piece of plastic on the beach, imagine the impact if every beach-goer took a moment to do the same. Is this vision, of beaches and coastal places litter-free, attainable? I’m all about staying on the Sunny Side, so I’m going out on a limb to say, yes, it is.
Make an impact on social media
Recently, one of my friends posted on social media about her visit to a beach in Ocean City, New Jersey where she witnessed some children feeding an entire barrel of cheese puffs to a flock of Laughing Gulls. She went up to the children and politely explained that feeding human food to wildlife is not good for them, and asked them to share what they learned today with other beach-goers who might want to feed a cracker to a gull. I admire my friend’s dedication to not only mitigate beach litter, but also her grit for personally educating children about protecting wildlife. She also managed to pick up an armful of plastic bits during this trip to the beach, including straws, cigarette butts (which have plastic filters), toys, Styrofoam, and a bottle. On a trip to Fort Lauderdale, Florida the following week, she collected a plastic cup and straw from the sand. While snorkeling, she grabbed a floating plastic bag from the water, which could be mistaken for a jellyfish by an unsuspecting sea turtle. To me her actions define ocean optimism! I share her story and a little more about ways we can bring marine litter awareness into our daily lives.
A friend with a wildlife and marine vision
My friend is Marissa Altmann, a wildlife conservationist who works for the Wildlife Friendly Enterprise Network (WFEN, check out @wildlife friendly), an organization that takes an innovative approach by using certification as a practical market-based tool to get conservation work done. WFEN certifies enterprises that assure people and nature coexist and thrive and provides incentives for conservation by inspiring companies, their consumers, and local communities to protect wildlife. WFEN’s work around the world empowers consumers and tourists to be catalysts for behavior change and best practices for some of the world’s most vulnerable wildlife including sea turtles.
WFEN is expanding their impact by tackling marine litter as part of a new certification program, Sea Turtle Friendly™. Through this program, Marissa and WFEN hope to help the sea turtles by encouraging the private sector and tourists to support the conservation of these species. Reducing marine litter is one goal of the program, along with promoting low-impact lighting, encouraging a respectful distance when in the water, reducing trade in sea turtle shell products, and much more. By engaging tourists and the hospitality sector as partners in conservation, this program acts to provide new and sustainable livelihood opportunities for coastal communities that might otherwise cause harmful tourism-related impacts or turn to sea turtle poaching.
WFEN’s co-founder and Executive Director, Julie Stein says that “Beach and ocean clean ups are one approach but equally if not more important is to reduce plastic litter and microplastics before it ever reaches our oceans and beaches….Consumers have a lot of power and they need to use it effectively to create change especially on this issue. The health of our oceans and marine wildlife depend on it.”
It’s up to us to spread marine awareness
Certification programs are one great way for us to find businesses that are committed to conservation. This month, Plastic Free July, was also a flurry of awareness about what we can do to reduce our overall plastic consumption. But what else can you and I do to continue the wave of Ocean Optimism throughout the year? I recently learned about take3.org, a not-for-profit organization that began back in 2009 in Sydney, Australia. The Take 3 message is simple: take 3 pieces of litter with you when you leave the beach, waterway, or anywhere! Let’s face it: it’s going to take much more than 3 pieces each to really get a handle on pervasive marine pollution. While picking up other people’s trash may not be an instinct, it probably would make us feel good about pitching in to clean up our coasts!
According to Marissa, “People often don’t realize their own impact on wildlife and ecosystems, but by pointing out how harmful a straw or plastic bag can be to a majestic sea turtle, you can usually get people to think about their actions a little differently.”
Just as Marissa posted on Facebook about her beach experience, you can use social media as a platform to show the difference you made by picking up trash. Part of Take 3’s message is to share photos of what you collected from the beach by posting to Instagram or Facebook and using the hashtag #Take3fortheSea and logging the location. And it gets even better: By posting what you collect, the Take 3 team can record the number of items removed from waterways and measure the tangible difference we are all making together! Who knows, maybe the photos uploaded by Take 3 supporters could help coastal communities target certain beaches and tourist locations for more intense clean-up and awareness.
And if you visit any coastal beaches or businesses that are particularly responsible when it comes to litter and conservation, you can use the #SeaTurtleFriendly or #WildlifeFriendly hashtags to raise awareness of destinations that encourage conservation action.
Beach clean-ups provide a way for concerned citizens to take part in helping to remove the rubbish that seems to cling to our coasts. Recent research conducted in the U.K. suggests that clean-up activities may increase awareness of marine litter problems. We can learn a lot from the Take 3 message and Marissa’s organization-whether you pick up a can or bottle, or kindly remind your friends and family the importance of keeping our coasts litter-free, you are making a difference. Indeed, my recent conversation with Marissa has inspired me to have more marine litter awareness, and I hope you have become inspired to take a moment, or 3, for our oceans.
Kate received her Ph.D. in Aquatic Ecology from the University of Notre Dame and she holds a Masters in Environmental Science & Biology from SUNY Brockport. She currently teaches at a small college in Indiana and is starting out her neophyte research career in aquatic community monitoring. Outside of lab and fieldwork, she enjoys running and kickboxing.