“The ocean is my bliss. My job lets me do what I love and call it work,” says Andrea Neal, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Blue Ocean Sciences, a scientific collaboration seeking healthy water solutions, in Ojai, California. “When I surf, I’m in sync with water and air at the same time.” One time during a Scandinavian snowfall, she donned a wet suit to ride eight-foot waves; after splashdown, she emerged with ice-tipped eyelashes and a huge grin. “I’ve never been so cold, but it was glorious!”
Be a hero, take pollution down to zero.
~ National Park Service
Neal likens scuba diving to entering another world, revealing nature’s undersea glories. “Crabs sneak a peek and you’re face-to-face with fish. Sea lions want to play,” she says. “I’ve also had great white sharks cruise by and give me an intimidating nudge.”
It’s not just sharks and extreme weather that swimmers, divers and watercraft enthusiasts worry about these days—it’s trash, too. The most basic requirement for safe water sports is clean water. Plastics, paper and other debris, ranging from microscopic toxins to everyday garbage, pose life-threatening hazards to human and marine life. “I want my kids and their kids to share in what I’ve experienced,” exclaims Neal, part of the global scientific community redefining clean water habitats as an investment.
Semiannual walking beach cleanups, an Oregon tradition for 30 years, have removed 2.8 million pounds of trash, largely comprising cigarette butts, fishing ropes and plastic bottles. Unusual items include telephone poles and a 200-pound Styrofoam block. In the 2014 spring campaign, 4,800 volunteers that treasure coastal recreational activities removed an estimated 24 tons of litter and marine debris (solv.org). What West Coasters see can also show up in Japan and vice versa, so coordinated cleanup efforts benefit outdoor enthusiasts in both countries.
Lake Tahoe, on the California/Nevada border, beckons paddleboard, raft, canoe and kayak aficionados. Last year, volunteers for the Great Sierra River Cleanup, a Sierra Nevada Conservancy project, finessed the condition of this recreational site by picking up a ton of trash in and near the water and were able to recycle 600 pounds of it (Tinyurl.com/SierraRiverCleanup).
Desert winds, combined with flat landscapes, blow Las Vegas debris into Nevada’s Lake Mead. Operation Zero – Citizens Removing and Eliminating Waste, ferries volunteers to a cove accessible only by boat to clean and enjoy the area (Tinyurl.com/LakeMeadOperationZero).
The improved natural environment attracts visitors to the lake to try new sports like wakesurfing, riding the water behind a wave-producing boat by dropping the tow line once waves form. The more adventurous go wakeboarding, which combines water skiing, snowboarding and surfing skills as the rider becomes airborne between waves. The more advanced sport of waterskating requires more stylish skateboarder moves.
Further inland, Adopt-a-Beach volunteers help keep the Great Lakes clean. More than a beach sweep, volunteers regularly monitor litter throughout the year and perform a complete beach health assessment on each visit. The eight Great Lakes border states—Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—benefit from teams of volunteers continually working to improve beach health (GreatLakes.org/adoptabeach).
Moving south, Project AWARE cleans up Iowa’s waterways, “one stretch of river, one piece of trash at a time” (Tinyurl.com/IowaAware). Stand up paddleboarding, kayaking and canoeing are popular river activities. Paddlers collect litter en route and leave it in designated bins at access points.
In Missouri, the Big River beckons. Jeff Briggs, an insurance adjustor in High Ridge, tubes the mile-plus stretch between dams at Rockford Beach Park and Byrnes Mill. “When we’re tubing, it’s just for enjoyment,” he says. “For a longer float, we take the jon boat so there’s space to stow trash.”
Table Rock Lake, in southern Missouri, draws fishermen and water sports enthusiasts. Their WK Lewis Shoreline Cleanup has removed 179 tons of trash in 10 years. In 2013, 670 volunteers filled 11 dumpsters (Tinyurl.com/WK-Lewis-Cleanup).
“It takes love and commitment, patience and persistence to keep cleaning up habitats,” says Wallace J. Nichols, Ph.D., co-founder of four grassroots water advocacy groups. “Clean water is important though, to sustain fit life on the planet.”
Avery Mack is a freelance writer in St. Louis, MO. Connect via AveryMack@mindspring.com.[divider]
How Trash Impacts Marine Life
“No matter where you live, trash can travel from your hands to storm drains to streams and on to the sea. The problem of ocean trash is entirely preventable, and you can make a difference,” advises the Ocean Conservancy.
The Ocean Trash Index provides information by state and country on how much and what kind of trash enters our waterways. Each fall, data is collected during the organization’s International Coastal Cleanup one-day campaign both on land and under water. About 10 million pounds of trash was collected worldwide in 2013; of that total, 3.5 million pounds, or nearly 35 percent, originated in the U.S.
The most common offenses include discarded cigarette butts and filters, food wrappers, plastic bottles and bags, beverage caps and lids, cups, plates, utensils, straws and stirrers, glass bottles, aluminum cans and paper bags. All of it could have been recycled, including the cigarettes (see RippleLife.org/butts).
Trash enters the water from illegal or thoughtless dumping, extreme weather events, a crashed plane, sunken boat, lost fishing traps, nets or lines, movie props or windblown litter. For example, a plastic bag blows out of the trash can or truck, enters a storm drain or creek and moves into rivers and the ocean, where it endangers marine life, swimmers and watercraft.
Water boards in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area recognize that voluntary measures aren’t enough to solve the problem. Some cities in the Los Angeles area have implemented full-capture systems designed to trap debris greater than five millimeters in size.
Prevention is obviously the least expensive, safest and easiest way to keep water clean. To protect local, regional and global waters, follow the familiar refrain of recycle, reuse, repair and repurpose. Be thoughtful about what’s in the trash can and keep it securely closed. Move the car on street sweeping days—along with dust, dirt and leaves, a street sweeper picks up animal waste and oil from cars.
Ask for and advocate less packaging on commonly used products, stiffer fines for polluters and increased funding for enforcement and research. Knowing what comprises most trash helps consumers demand product redesigns and new policies that address the most problematic items and materials, explains Nicholas Mallos, a marine debris specialist with the Ocean Conservancy.
Rippl is a free mobile application that can help users practice what they preach in making simple, sustainable choices by delivering weekly green living tips, available at OceanConservancy.org/do-your-part/rippl.html. A safe, fun day near, on, in or under the water starts with green practices at home.
For details visit Tinyurl.com/CoastalCleanupReport.