Here are some things I’ve learned since I began volunteering/working on the beach.
- There are wonderful people in the world who want to protect natural resources like the land and the animals that use it.
- There are wonderful people in the world who take time out of their day to protect/preserve the land and the animals without compensation and sometimes at our own expense.
- There are wonderful people who, even though they might not actively work for the land and the animals, are at least willing to keep their belongings and their trash to themselves.
And then there are these people:
And these people:
And these pictures bring up other things I know:
- The wind will take things away from you on the beach. Even as someone who cleans the beach several times a week, I will often have a Styrofoam cup or a plastic bag escape my grasp or my trash pick and, on occasion, this escapee makes it into the dunes. I stress, on occasion.
- This can largely be avoided, even with the stuff that is prone to sailing.
- When you empty a grocery bag, do your best to hold onto it until you get it into a place the wind can’t catch it: preferably, a trash bag inside your vehicle or cart.
- If you don’t have a trash bag, get creative. Tie the empty bag into a knot and then place it in the cans or your vehicle. Do anything but leave it in “kite form” and susceptible to the wind. It takes seconds.
- Hard plastic shatters. Note the water gun in the video has tire tracks over it. It appears intact. When I picked it up, a dozen tiny pieces were embedded in the sand. Those tiny pieces get into our soil, our water, our fish, our bodies. Every day, we pick up thousands of pieces of plastic and there is no way for us to get it all. My boss refers to these pieces as “plastic roadkill.” The number of children’s buckets, shovels, water blasters, etc., that we have picked up in their dead and shattered form on any given day is astounding.
- Empty plastic bottles can blow away in a strong wind. People often crush or twist them. That does help keep them out of the dunes, even when placing them in the trash cans.
- It is against a city ordinance for you to carry glass onto our beach. If you’ve ever seen a small child with his foot sliced open in dirty sand, you would perhaps think twice. Glass bottles protect themselves from being run over and shattered about as well as the plastic roadkill does, which is to say, not at all.
- The following things do not “sail” and there is absolutely no excuse for us to find them in the sand (yet we do):
- used diapers,
- used prophylactics, (ew)
- glass anything,
- non-inflatable beach toys,
- sand-laden towels,
- sand-laden tents,
- bottle caps,
- partly full or full bottles/cans of anything,
- spray cans (of any sort),
- hangers (really? Why?),
- baby wipes (no really, if they’re wet, they don’t sail and I see literally thousands of them on the beach on any given weekend).
- dolls, clothing, furniture! (seriously, I found an entire wooden table and a footstool)
What these pictures and videos should tell you more than anything is that we are teaching our children how NOT to treat our home. This is how NOT to respect the land or the animals. Turtles die from ingesting plastic bags and balloons. Baby birds fail to thrive when mama feeds them plastic-laden fish. We are only beginning to grasp what all this garbage in our water may be doing to our health long-term.
So, what can you do? You don’t have to clean the beach like I and other workers and volunteers do, but what you can do requires very little effort at all.
- Bring or accept the trash bags we hand out to our visitors and use it.
- Take your trash with you and dispose of it at home. Overflowing trash cans lead to birds and coyotes adding to the problem. You had room to pack it in—you have room to pack it out.
- Please DO NOT release balloons. Not even the so-called “environmentally friendly” balloons. They do not break down quickly enough to be safe for our endangered sea turtles.
- If you just can’t see taking trash home, at the very least, bag it and thoroughly tie the bag closed. Put it in or by/under the cans. Please don’t put trash in the dunes whether bagged or not. You shouldn’t be near enough to the dunes to do so, anyway (see our local beach ordinances and know the rattlesnake risks).
You may not live here, but it is your home (planet). The trash you leave on the beach doesn’t just affect the beach. You teach your children, through your actions, that their toys are expendable and can be thrown into the environment without care, and that they need not respect either their belongs or their home or others.