Helping the Ocean, One Beach Clean at a Time

Thomas Morris

Recent predictions regarding ocean trash estimate that there will be more plastic in the oceans than fish, by 2050. Because of this, plastic has become a global concern, that is starting to take the international stage as one of the greatest threats to our planet. So, what is actually being done to assist in this epidemic that is plaguing marine life? There has been a surge in the number and scale of clean ups, as picking up rubbish has become TRENDY (finally!), and no longer stigmatised. People around the globe are getting stuck in at beaches, waterways, and local communities. We bring you some success stories that bring a touch of joy to our hearts, and act as beacons of hope in this plastic world.

Plastic littering the beach at Henderson Island. Photo: Alice Forrest

Plastic littering the beach at Henderson Island. Photo: Alice Forrest

Versova beach, Mumbia

Versova beach in Mumbai, India, is one of the greatest success stories in modern history. With waste reaching 1.5 m high, this beach looked like a landfill site. Disturbed by this, a local lawyer and activist, Afroz Shah, coordinated a coastal clean-up effort by organizing a team of hundreds of volunteers. They spent nearly 2 years picking up 5.3 million kg of trash from the beach and adjoining waterways. They also put systems in place to prevent future trash from accumulating and, most importantly, started educating the local community about sustainable waste management.

In 2018, two years after the completion of this incredible feat, their effort paid off. More than 80 Olive Ridley turtles hatched on the beach. This was the first time this had happened in over 20 years, with the same volunteers who had assisted in the initial clean up, assisting these little turtles to their very first taste of the sea.

Hatchlings (Green Sea turtles) on their way to the sea. Photo: Harriet Tyley @harriettyley

Hatchlings (Green Sea turtles) on their way to the sea. Photo: Harriet Tyley @harriettyley

International Clean Up

Every September since 1991, on International coastal clean-up day, the Ocean Conservancy utilises an international army of volunteers to assist regional organisers with cleaning up coastal sections in their area. In 2018 this global effort utilized 789,138 volunteers to pick up almost 9.3 million kg of trash. What makes this event unique is that the regional organisers collect information about what is being picked up and communicate this back to Ocean Conservancy, with reports published annually. These reports allow the type and potential sources of the debris to be identified, and their conclusions can educate the world and hopefully, change behaviours. You can find a clean up location for 2019 here, or download their app Clean Swell to document your own clean ups!

Social Media Trends

#breakfreefromplastic is an initiative that goes one step further. Not only are they collecting information on the types of debris that their volunteers are picking up, but they are identifying, naming, and shaming the companies that are at the top of their list. Taking to social media with #isthisyours, participants of this clean up called out the companies they found to be the top polluters; namely Coca Cola, Pepsi, Nestlé and Danone. This might not be your style, but this technique demands these corporations take full responsibility for the full life-cycle of their products, and the packaging they sell them in. Other profiles and hashtags have since popped up, such as @litterati, #trashtag and one insta-famous mum who’s making litter into cute artwork with #projectlittercritter.

Getting creative

A sculpture installed on Malpe Beach, India, has changed the beach clean game for good. Marketed as the ‘Fish That Swallowed Plastic Bottles’, Yoshi was installed by artist and sculptor Janardhan Havanje following a ‘Beat Plastic Pollution’ campaign on World Environment Day. The fish was ‘fed’ with plastic collected from the beach during the campaign. Loving this idea, the W Bali, Seminyak hotel copied suit, installing Goby the plastic eating fish. These multifunctional art pieces spark much needed conversations about plastic waste, whilst facilitating proper disposal and recycling.

What these initiatives show is that a regional call to arms is possible. That by the leadership of an individual, or an organization, lasting change to coastal plastic pollution is possible. Through mass efforts, like beach clean ups, a sense of pride can be established for natural areas. This pride can be fostered through education initiatives in local schools and through educating local volunteers on how their actions make an impact. Recent research examining the benefits of beach cleans has suggested they are doing more than just cleaning up litter. They are also acting as educational exercises, and are leading to volunteers having greater intentions of participating in future beach cleans and engage in more environmentally responsible behaviours.

Plastics found on beach cleans, and a bird which died from plastic pollution. Photos: Alice Forrest & Carissa Cabrera

Want to start making your mark? This Facebook Group can help you find a clean up in your area. If ‘naming and shaming’ is your cup of tea, then jump onto social media and use the hashtags above to add your voice to the movement. Or why not give ‘plogging’ a go - the Scandanavian lifestyle craze of jogging and litter picking, which has since spread around the world. All you need is a pair of trainers, a bag for the rubbish, and a pair of gloves, in return for some fresh air, exercise and lots of feel-good factor.

There is the saying that ‘every little counts’, but there is also something called ‘the snowball effect’. As more and more of us start doing the little things, the snowball effect will take hold and transform us from a state of insignificance to a place of global action. These stories have shown that it is possible, and we must do everything within our power to make sure it stays that way.

This month, The Marine Diaries will be sharing our knowledge on plastic pollution to help educate the public about the impact of our actions on marine life, in the hope of promoting change. Together we can fight plastic.

Want to become part of a community striving to reduce their plastic use? Join our Facebook group