What Is A Beach Clean-up?
There is almost nothing better than the bliss of a walk along the beach, feeling the salty breath of the sea breeze on your face, the sunshine warming your back and the soft sand filtering between your toes. But, there is also almost nothing worse than witnessing the beauty of the beach spoiled by human waste – especially plastic pollution! The beach is a place of relaxation.
One of the major benefits of organizing a beach clean-up is that it brings people face-to-face with the reality of plastic pollution. While this is a hot topic at the moment, many people are unlikely to change their behavior until they understand the scope of the plastic pollution and see the impact it has on the environment. To many people, plastic (especially single-use plastic) is an out of sight, out of mind type of problem, once it is in the bin – it is not their problem anymore. But all that waste has to go somewhere (since it doesn’t biodegrade) and it often ends up in the ocean and, subsequently, ends up washing up on shore.
By organizing a beach clean-up, volunteers are able to physically see the quantity of plastic littering the beach and have a greater understanding of the effort required to remove plastic from the marine system – having had to pick up the trash themselves. Seeing this problem first-hand is likely to encourage volunteers to assess plastic usage in their own community, and therefore consider modifying their own behavior. By being aware of the problem, volunteers can then raise awareness of plastic pollution by discussing the issue among friends, family, schoolmates and colleagues, and encouraging them to modify their behavior as well.
In addition, beach clean-ups often attract attention, and people will often stop to find out what is happening, which is a fantastic way to start up a conversation on the benefits of switching to non-single use plastic alternatives, such as material shopping bags. Also, by seeing the effectiveness of beach clean-up in improving the surrounding environment, it can encourage more people to get involved, especially if they feel that they are making a difference.
Plastic Pollution Has A Huge Impact On The Marine Ecosystem, And Is Also Directly Harmful To Local Wildlife
While plastic pollution is largely an eye-sore to humans, it can be extremely harmful to local marine life. Plastic can easily become entangled and get caught around necks, beaks, feet, wings, flippers and fins of marine animals, choking the poor animals or affecting their mobility and ability to catch food to feed themselves – we’ve all watched Happy Feet. Plastic is also often ingested by marine animals, either by accident or on purpose, which cause blockages in the digestive system. These blockages have been shown to cause suffering in marine animals, as well as internal injuries, suppressed immune and reproductive systems, and often death. A common example of this is turtles, which often mistake plastic bags as jellyfish and end up choking on them when they try to take a bite.
Plastic build-up on beaches can also affect other ecological processes, such as in India where the efforts of just one person, a young lawyer, Afroz Shah, to organize local beach clean-ups along the Versova beach resulted in the return of the endangered Olive Ridley turtles that had been absent for a number of years.
Organizing regular local beach clean-ups can help remove plastic pollution from the marine ecosystem and thus protect local wildlife. This is also a great way to encourage locals to get involved, as many ocean creatures are charismatic and attract people’s attention.
Data Collection Helps Us Reduce Plastic Waste Where It Counts
While beach clean-ups improve the current conditions of the marine ecosystem by physically removing the plastic, they are beneficial in the long term as well, because they provide data to local scientists or environmentalists. Data, such as what are the most common plastic items found on the beach or the source of the plastics, can help direct other conservation initiatives to reduce plastic waste. For example, straws were found to be one of the most common plastics littering the beaches by data-collecting beach clean-up organizations. Straws are particularly harmful to many marine bird species because the birds mistake the straws for food and swallow them, often ending up choking to death. Given the abundance of straws picked up in beach clean-ups, marine conservation organizations have specifically targeted straws as an important single-use plastic to educate people about – which has resulted in many shops and restaurants discontinuing the use of straws or switching to biodegradable alternatives. Straws seem like such a small thing, but just this small change in behavior from many people around the world makes a big change.
Economic Impact Of Plastic Pollution
In addition to the environmental impact of plastic pollution, plastic pollution also impacts the economy. Plastic not only impacts the marine environment and reduces the abundance of commercially important marine species, but can also significantly affect the tourist industry because nobody wants to visit a beach covered in plastic. In America, where the beaches are a popular tourist attraction, economists have estimated that one beach day is worth about $35 per visitor. By organizing beach clean-ups, the visual appeal and general beach vibe is greatly enhanced, which can give the tourism industry and local economy a boost.
Bioaccumulation Of Microplastics Can Be Reduced
Scientists have shown that microplastics are becoming a more and more serious health hazard over the years, as the tiny pieces of plastics that result from the break-down of larger plastic pieces are swallowed by small marine animals and bio-accumulate up the food chain. This means that as bigger fish eat the little fish, they end up with more plastic in their system than the smaller fish, and so the process continues with higher level predators having higher levels of plastic per their body weight than lower-level species. This is obviously a problem within the ecosystem itself, as apex predators play an important role in top-down regulation of prey species numbers within the system, but also represents a risk to human health as humans eat fish out the ocean. With 1 in 3 fish caught for human consumption being contaminated by microplastics, the risk to human health is significant and likely to become more so in the future. This is especially important in communities that rely on fish as their primary source of protein.
Because marine species can travel great distances, cleaning up a beach in one part of the world can impact people living in a completely different part of the world. As we all share the ocean, it is our joint responsibility to care for it for the benefit of all humans.
In summary, beach clean-ups are a fantastic way to contribute to saving the environment. They are an easy way to get people from all walks of life involved in reducing plastic pollution and protecting marine life. It is beneficial, not only to marine life, but also to all humans, to remove as much plastic as possible from the ocean while we still can.