No Ordinary Day at the Beach

by Marie Michelson

October 21, 2006

A toy soldier, a toothbrush, ribbon from an unwrapped gift, duct tape, a Nestle candy bar wrapper, bottle caps, ropes, fishing nets, and an explosion of plastic bits… not exactly ingredients for a perfect day at the beach. These were just a few of the things we collected on our beach clean up this morning.

We arrived at Kahuku beach bright and early this morning, but not quite early enough – the community-organized beach clean up had already begun. As soon as we set foot on the beach, we started noticing little specs of blue. I bent down, and found fragments of plastic. As I started picking them up, the sheer magnitude of what was happening hit me – these little fragments were everywhere, and they were being washed up from the ocean – from the very trash vortex we’ll be investigating when we get onboard the Esperanza. We spent an hour filling our trash bags with pieces of fishing rope, plastic pieces of all shapes and sizes, when we realized the rest of the volunteers were around a bend in the beach. We picked up trash as we worked our way over to them.

As I turned the corner, my heart just sank – the trash was so much worse on this side of the beach. The entire beach was speckled with plastic bits – it literally looked like the kitchen countertop in our office, made of recycled containers. But this was exactly the opposite – evidence of all of the plastic swirling around the Pacific Ocean that hasn’t been recycled, hasn’t been thrown in the garbage. It was the worst result of littering, and every piece of plastic I saw represented a massive threat to wildlife, like sea turtles and albatross, who eat these pieces of plastic mistaking them for food, and end up starving to death, because they can’t digest any of it. I used to wonder how an animal could mistake a plastic bottle for food, but today, as I bent down and looked closely at the debris, it wasn’t until I picked something up that I could see the difference between clear or white plastic, and bits of shell that are natural on the beach. Once plastic breaks apart, it’s hard to tell what it once was.

Margaret, one of the organizers of the clean up, told me that this part of the beach is worse because of the wind and currents. Here, in addition to all the little bits of plastic, were huge items like a tire, and a huge, heavy tangle of fishing nets. It was so depressing that I really felt like sitting down and giving up. But that didn’t last, how could I give up, when the locals here come out all the time, and keep working to clean the beach?

So, we’ll be at another beach clean up tomorrow, working with the Surfrider’s Foundation, and we’ll be back at Kahuku on Thursday, this time with the Esperanza anchored offshore. 


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