Given the condition of today’s oceans, I would imagine that my personal experience with marine debris is similar to what others have witnessed. Like most, my story begins at the beach. I had the incredible opportunity to attend a study abroad school in the Bahamas during high school. I lived for four months on the island of Eleuthera, located in the Gulf of Mexico, on the edge of the Atlantic. This experience taught me many valuable lessons and opened my eyes to important environmental issues, much of that learning and growth occurring outside of the classroom. My classmates and I would often explore the island in our free time. Bike rides to local beaches and kayak trips along the coast gave us direct exposure to the island’s waters, which, we learned, have a profound effect on the locals’ way of life.
Eleuthera is one of the outer islands in a chain of some 700 islands that comprise the country of the Bahamas. While its tourism industry is less developed than many of its sister islands and its beaches, thus, see less human activity, I discovered its coastlines are far from pristine. We encountered all sorts of debris along the shores, from construction hats to nearly unrecognizable specks of plastic. It appeared as though the island were acting like a net, sieving debris out of the Gulf Stream as it flowed past. I often wondered: If this little island collects this much trash, how much is still out in our oceans? This unsettling question haunted me long after my semester in Eleuthera was complete. In my home state of Michigan, I tend to think of the same scenario occurring in the Great Lakes. Every waterway and every corner of our oceans seems to have been touched by humans, and our waste. Is this the legacy we want to leave behind? Hopefully not!
Excitingly, the issue of debris in our seas has recently gained national and international attention. In 2011, The Ocean Conservancy launched a major Trash Free Seas movement at the Annual Meeting of The Clinton Global Initiative in New York City. With the help of projects dedicated to cleaning up our oceans, like the Rozalia Project, we are taking steps in the right direction to conserve and protect our planet’s valuable water resources. Such initiatives give me hope, but as I now study Environmental Studies and Biology at Eckerd College, I am realizing the immensity of this problem and other global environmental issues that will not see improvements without effort and participation by all. Education, prevention, and clean up work at the local level are incredibly important. Whether we are land-locked, city dwellers, or live along the coast, there are actions that we can all take, since in fact we are all responsible. Below are a few simple ways you (or anyone!) can help prevent trash from reaching waterways and ultimately the ocean. I am thrilled to be joining Rozalia Project this summer to learn more about the new technology surrounding marine debris pick-up and contribute to its tremendous clean-up efforts in the Atlantic. It is a field that is expanding and will be more and more prominent in the future. May we leave a legacy behind in our oceans and world that we can be proud of!
Courtesy of Thrifty & Green:
- Use a trash can with a lid. How easy!
- Drink tap water in a reusable bottle.
- Buy smarter to reduce the amount of manufactured items winding up in the ocean.
- Take along your reusable coffee mug, picnic supplies or shopping bags (Americans alone throw away approximately 100 billion plastic bags a year!).
- Participate in a coastal cleanup near you.
For more information on Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas initiative: (http://www.oceanconservancy.org/our-work/marine-debris/)