Starting a Sea of Change

Jessica Seftel

The ocean is essential to the health of everything on the planet. It provides air we breathe, food we eat, and serves as the basis of our ecosystem. Fundamentally, the ocean is the life support system of our earth. Harmful impacts to that support system, such as marine debris, global warming, and pollutants are exacting a toll we can no longer pay. Trash in the oceans pollutes our water, kills and injures wildlife through ingestion and entanglement, and costs coastal communities economically through debris removal, lost tourism, and lower property values. As part of a global network to improve the health of the ocean and waterways, the Ocean Conservancy has stepped up to the plate, officially marking Sept. 20 as California Coastal Cleanup Day.

“The International Coastal Cleanup Day offers a solution to the hazardous effects of trash found in the ocean,” said CEO and President of Ocean Conservancy, Vikki Spruill. “It’s something we can do to make a difference in one of the largest problems we face. All of us have a personal responsibility when it comes to the health of the ocean.”

Volunteers clear trash and debris from beaches, and record everything they find. The Conservancy’s mission is to promote healthy and diverse ocean ecosystems and oppose practices that threaten ocean life. Through research, education, and science-based advocacy, they aspire to inform, inspire, and empower people to speak and act on behalf of the oceans. This year, the Conservancy has partnered up with the California Coastal Commission, whose job is to address issues such as shoreline public access and recreation, terrestrial and marine habitat protection, and water quality. Both strive to be the world’s foremost ocean advocates.

The kickoff began in San Francisco and ended as far south as San Diego. According to the California Coastal Cleanup Data Report, more than 378,000 volunteers came together for the event. They donated their time to remove more than six million pounds of debris, over 182 pounds of trash per mile.

Statistics shown by the report also revealed that 49.3 percent of the debris found came from land based activities such as picnics, festivals, sporting events, and beach outings. Litter washed from the streets, parking lots, and storm drains also contributed. While land-based efforts accounted for the vast majority of activities, the cleanup was not limited to the shoreline and beaches. Volunteers also retrieved debris from beneath the water’s surface.

“Over 8,300 divers took part in the underwater cleanup efforts,” Spruill said. “Statewide, they collected more than 161,000 pounds of debris over 1,000 miles of underwater terrain.”

All data collected from the California Coastal Cleanup is integral to learning the behaviors that cause marine debris and serving as a resource in creating programs designed to educate people. The Ocean Conservancy’s data has been used to help draft legislation, including the Marine Research, Prevention, and Reduction Act, which Congress passed in 2006.

The truth is that our ocean ecosystem cannot protect us unless it is healthy and resilient.

“There are no statistics readily available for the entire planet, but considering the United States makes up about 4 percent of the world’s population, this is a lot,” reports Executive Officer of the Ocean Conservancy Sam Schuchat. “Each American makes about 4 pounds of garbage daily. Trash doesn’t fall from the sky, it falls from peoples’ hands.”

With the help of the International Coastal Cleanup, everyone has an opportunity to make a difference.

“We want the Cleanup to become the one volunteer activity each year that every Californian has a chance to participate in,” said Eben Schwartz, Outreach Manager and Coordinator of the California Coastal Commission.

To accomplish this goal, Schwartz, the California Coastal Commission, and the Ocean Conservancy are expanding outreach efforts beyond their traditional audience of students, teachers, and their families, and are appealing to all Californians to participate.

“Through the Cleanup, we are able to draw thousands of new people each year into our common mission of coastal stewardship.”

Trash in the ocean pollutes water, kills and injures wildlife, and costs a fortune. We have the opportunity to make significant strides to not only clean up the existing trash polluting our water, but also to reduce the amount that enters our ocean in the first place. California cannot rely on some politicians to fix the problem. Individuals must take action on this fundamental issue of ocean cleaniness and rely on each other to solve the problem.

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