Most everyone has either heard of or read about the vast amount of garbage and plastic that exists in oceans around the world.
By some estimates, 46,000 pieces of plastic trash float in every square mile of ocean, with huge quantities coming together to form “islands.” One of those, named the Eastern Garbage Patch, midway between Hawaii and California, is estimated to be twice the size of Texas.
Think about that. A plastic island twice the size of Texas!
While I’ve read about this environmental disaster it never seemed real to me. Sure we’ve talked about it at our Green Team meetings; we’ve encouraged responsible use of products here at the zoo. Still the thought that garbage could actually wash up in a long, colorful line along the beautiful sandy beaches seemed incomprehensible.
Then I visited Mexico and walked along a beach covered with everything from toothpaste tubes, glue and soft drink containers, flip-flops, pieces of carpet and plastic forks and spoons. It was impossible to take off your shoes and feel the sand between your toes without getting stabbed by debris. Oddly, upon close inspection, many of these items had recycle emblems on them.
The littered beach scene runs endlessly along the southern Yucatan Peninsula and elsewhere in Mexico. There are brief reprieves in front of resorts, where staff tend to the beaches with garbage bags and rakes several times a day. Ironically, all of the poolside drinks and meals are delivered to resort guests in, you guessed it, plastic containers!
In its simplest form, the trash on these beaches looks bad. But far more impactful and far-reaching, this garbage threatens the mangroves and coral reef eco-systems of these fragile and naturally beautiful landscapes.
I’ve long remembered this story from my childhood: One day a man was walking along the beach when he noticed a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. Approaching the boy, he asked, "What are you doing?" The youth replied, "Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. If I don't throw them back, they'll die."
"Son," the man said, "Don't you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can't make a difference!"
After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then, smiling at the man, he said, "I made a difference to that one."
Never has the story ever resonated so clearly with me as it did when I saw the garbage on these beaches. One of us can not fix our environmental disasters. Each of us, however, can make a difference. Not only have I resolved to stop and pick up every errant piece of garbage from now on, I will also curb my use of plastic and step up my recycling efforts.
I hope you will join me in this effort!
For 101 other ways to help the ocean visit www.marinebio.org