Have you ever looked forward to taking selfies or holiday photos on a secluded beach during your surface intervals only to find the beach covered in trash? Have you spotted the coolest critter underwater just to see it crawling out of a glass bottle? The truth is, trash is everywhere whether you look for it or not.
The trash in our ocean is a serious issue that threatens the marine ecosystem and those whose livelihood depends on it. The good news is that marine debris is a man-made problem, which means we can also be the ones that solve it!
This is where cleanup events come in handy. Here are seven reasons why beach and underwater cleanups are powerful:
Beach and coastal cleanups reduce the amount of trash
that ends up in the ocean
Waves and currents from the ocean wash in a significant amount of the trash we find on our coastlines. This is (in some ways) a good thing. With the trash ending up back on land, it gives us a chance to make sure it doesn’t get washed back into the ocean. When on land, they are not floating freely in the ocean, where they pose a more significant threat to marine life. However, trash on land is still a threat to land animals.
The impacts of marine debris on marine and land animals are numerous. They are causing ingestion, suffocation and entanglement of hundreds of animals. For example, debris obstructing a baby turtle’s path into the ocean to start their life. Or an Albatross accidentally feeding on plastic, mistaking it for food and passing it onto their offspring.
Keep in mind that plastic products never truly degrade. They only break down into tiny fragments called microplastics (small plastic pieces less than 5 mm in length) that end up in our food chain. As much as marine debris is dangerous to marine life, it also has the potential to be hazardous to humans. So, cleanups will benefit both marine and land animals, including humans.
Underwater cleanups create a safer environment
for marine life
Seahorses are supposed to hold onto corals and seagrass, not cotton buds or face masks. Whales should be able to swim freely and not be entangled by discarded fishing nets – also called ghost nets. Marine life is supposed to inhabit their natural environments without being harmed by artificial trash. You probably wouldn’t like it if someone dumped a load of rubbish outside your home, right?
Underwater cleanups can help remove these threats from marine habitats and make it a safer place for sea creatures to live in. Marine debris that has been exposed to the sun breaks down and releases chemicals into the ocean that could harm marine life and our health. So, cleanups also remove and reduce toxic chemicals in the water, which is good for everyone.
Cleanups are beneficial to the local communities
Trash isn’t just unsightly, but living amongst it can also affect physical and mental health. Litter such as broken glasses and sharp metal can cause injury. But more sinister than that are the toxic chemicals that can leach out of plastics, batteries and other materials, polluting surface and groundwater.
Extensive collections of dumped trash can also attract pests from insects to rodents, which can spread diseases. Studies have shown that continued exposure to waste could have psychological effects, leading to a lack of self-worth and depression. A cleaner and greener environment can lift moods, and that means happier residents.
Clean beaches can help boost local economies
Many coastal communities rely on tourism for their livelihoods, from local restaurants to accommodation and water sport activities. No one wants a polluted beach as a background in their selfies, let alone staying in a dirty area. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that clean beaches attract more tourists.
While that helps the local economy, tourists could further help with the marketing as well. By snapping selfies and posting stories of the beautiful beaches, they are spreading the news and helping to promote the area. Tourists are more inclined to promote clean environments, and in turn, benefit the local economies.
Great opportunity for trash data collection to inform new policies
Apps such as Clean Swell or Dive Against Debris help record and report vital data collected during cleanup events. Policymakers worldwide can use the data to influence and implement long-term solutions for reducing global ocean trash and improve waste management.
Sorting the trash while recording the data can show people first-hand what makes up most of our waste. That could make people more aware of their trash and hopefully instil the idea of going zero-waste or making smarter choices on their consumption.
Cleanup events are great for raising awareness on marine debris issue
You will meet a lot of people from all walks of life during cleanup events. From local children and adults to international visitors. Therefore, making cleanup events an excellent opportunity to raise awareness within the community and a wider audience. These events might even inspire some volunteers to organise or get involved in future cleanups!
You can inform people what marine debris is, its negative effects on the environment and how to prevent it. Although trash is found everywhere and is widely known as a serious issue, some might not be aware of the actual underlying problems.
You can deliver educational content by playing interactive games that provide members of the public with environmental facts. For example, develop games using the “Trash Breakdown Infographic” to ask multiple-choice questions such as “How many years does it take a plastic bag to break down in the ocean? a) 1-2 years b) 2-5 years c) 10-20 years”.
This can increase community engagement significantly to inspire and empower people to make a lasting change to their waste management.
Able to dispose of the trash properly
By collecting trash on the beach and underwater, you are giving it a second chance. You might be surprised by the things you find during a cleanup. You could stumble upon items that you can provide a second life to by upcycling or recycling. Sorted trash from recording data also means you can dispose of the waste properly instead of just sending them all to the landfill.
Proper waste management improves more than just ocean health. It can increase economic growth, make us healthier and reduce emissions of greenhouse gasses. If you are inspired to organise your cleanup events, check out Green Fins Cleanup Guidelines to learn how to conduct them in an environmentally friendly way.
Don’t forget that while cleanups are great for removing the trash that already exists, being mindful of our waste consumption and reducing it is the best way to tackle the problem at the source!