Oil residue found by Greenpeace Japan on the shore of the island Amami Oshima. © Kosaku Hamada/ Greenpeace

Going to the beach to listen to the sound of waves is one of the best remedies for stress. It reminds me how beautiful our planet is and how lucky I am to be part of it.

But our oceans are under threat from human activities. Overfishing, plastic waste, acidification, deep sea mining… the list is long.

And on top of that, oil spills are happening regularly.

Last week, I went to the southwestern Japanese islands to witness one firsthand.

I’d heard about oil spills happening in other parts of the world but this was the first one I’d seen with my own eyes.

Akiko Tsuchiya from Greenpeace Japan traveled to Amami Oshima to contribute to the clean-up effort there, and observe how much damage has been caused by oil washing ashore. © Kosaku Hamada / Greenpeace

The beautiful island of Amami Oshima is home to various types of coral reef, as well as fish and endangered marine animals like sea turtles and humpback whales.

At the end of January, the Sanchi tanker started spilling oil into the East China Sea.

Oil has now reached the shores of these Japanese islands. I went to Amami Oshima and could see small blocks of oil in the waves and an oil soaked fishing net.

We don’t know for sure where the oil has come from, but it’s there. Creepy, black, sticky lumps of oil spreading onto the beach.

Oil reside © Kosaku Hamada / Greenpeace

Oil found by Greenpeace Japan on Sutego beach, Amami Oshima, Kagoshima. © Kosaku Hamada / Greenpeace

Seeing the oil on the shore made me sad. Sad for the people and wildlife that might be affected.

A dead streaked shearwater was found with oil attached to its feathers. A week earlier a sea turtle was found choking to death on oil residues. 

My heart was aching.

A dead seabird found on the shore of Chinase, Amami Oshima, Japan. © Kosaku Hamada / Greenpeace

The clean-up operation started on one of the iconic beaches, and collected waste was piled up on the beach. I met local people who said they hoped everything would get back to normal soon, and that people from outside the island would remember what had happened there.

I came to learn that even if the oil is cleared up until there’s no obvious residue, it doesn’t mean the toxicity problem has been removed completely.

We know from previous oil spills that toxic residues can persist for a long time in beach sand and sediment, leading to elevated levels of toxic chemicals in marine life.

Waste on Asani beach © Kosaku Hamada / Greenpeace

Waste collected from the clean-up operation on Asani beach, Amami Oshima. © Kosaku Hamada / Greenpeace

The reality is that oil spills can happen anywhere and at any time.

While we continue to depend on fossil fuels and hydrocarbon chemicals – and transport them by sea – it is inevitable that these accidents will happen.

Everyone who lives on oil consumption is responsible for this, including me.

It’s a huge problem to tackle, and it can make me feel helpless. But I believe we can change this. We can be the generation that puts an end to fossil fuels.

All we can do is to reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and petrochemicals by changing our lifestyles.

Firstly, let’s reduce using petrochemicals like single use plastics.

Secondly, let’s walk more, ride a bicycle or choose transportation using less fossil fuels.

Thirdly, give our support to renewable energy over dirty energy.

Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.

Akiko Tsuchiya is a Communications Officer at Greenpeace Japan