International Coastal Cleanup Day Creates a Vision for Trash Free Seas

Ocean trash is one of the most widespread problems threatening our ocean and waterways. Trash in the water can impact human health: sharp items can cut beachgoers, and batteries, car parts and 55-gallon chemical drums may leak toxic compounds. Trash also threatens wildlife. Even the mightiest whale can drown when entangled in old rope or fishing nets, and many fish, birds and animals eat trash they mistake for food. Ocean trash chokes coastal economies as well deterring tourist visits and causing enormous cleanup bills.

Over the past 25 years, the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup has become the world’s largest volunteer effort for ocean health. Nearly nine million volunteers from 152 countries and locations have cleaned 145 million pounds of trash from the shores of lakes, streams, rivers, and the ocean on just one day each year. International Coastal Cleanup has helped to create a vision is of trash free seas—from product design to disposal, we all have a role to play in keeping our ocean clean and free of trash.

International Coastal Cleanup 2011 in Jamaica.

Photo courtesy of: Ocean Conservancy

From small beginnings International Coastal Cleanup became a world-wide movement

It all began with one woman walking along the beach of South Padre Island, Texas. Appalled at the amount of trash she saw, Linda Maraniss immediately felt compelled to do something about it. As a former employee of Ocean Conservancy (then known as the Center for Environmental Education), she knew something about solutions. Teaming up with like-minded people, she organized a beach cleanup. In a mere two hours, 2,800 Texans picked up 124 tons of trash along 122 miles of coastline. Since 1986, that effort has rippled out across the globe, and over a quarter century has grown into a much-loved and much valued experience that nearly half-a-million people look forward to each fall—with more joining each year.

entangeled seal

Seal entangled in ocean trash. Image credit: Ocean Conservancy

Data makes for good decisions

Working shoulder-to-shoulder, the volunteers in the Cleanup’s global network not only pick up trash, they record every item they find on standardized data cards. Ocean Conservancy compiles and analyzes the data each year, and publishes the world’s only item-by-item, location-by-location snapshot of marine debris in an annual report. By understanding what is out there, we can work together on solutions. For instance, each year volunteers collect more than a million beverage bottles from beaches, shorelines, and underwater in just one day. Clearly, that’s the tip of the iceberg.

Cleanups alone can’t solve the marine debris problem – we need to stop it at the source. Armed with knowledge about the most prevalent components of marine debris, elected officials can make informed policy decisions, and community leaders can more effectively tailor and expand recycling and other waste reduction programs. Corporations can see the need for improved technology and reduced packaging, and individuals are inspired to properly dispose of trash to keep it out of the ocean.

ocean litter


When we trash the ocean, we trash our own well-being

Whether we live along the shore or hundreds of miles inland, we are all intimately connected to the ocean. It drives and moderates our climate. It is the ultimate source of much of the water we drink and much of the air we breathe. It directly feeds millions of people. It also absorbs a great deal of the air and water pollution generated by a world population approaching seven billion people. But our ocean is sick, and our actions have made it so.

Marine debris kills

Every year, countless marine mammals, sea turtles, seabirds, and other animals are sickened, injured, or killed because of dangerous items we allow into the sea. They are poisoned, choked, or entangled in the trash we leave behind, from leaky paint cans to empty yogurt cups to cast-off fishing line. Trash also poses health threats to humans, contaminates marine environments, and clogs boat propellers.

Divers and organisations collaborate to celebrate International Coastal Cleanup in Simonstown, South Africa as part of UCT’s CleanDIVER initiative

Join forces for a clean, healthy ocean

Trash doesn’t fall from the sky, it falls from human hands. And human hands have the power to stop it. We can all make a difference through this remarkable experience of international camaraderie on behalf of the ocean. In 2009, 60 percent of the debris collected and cataloged consisted of single-use, disposable items. Volunteers picked up 1.1 million plastic bags. And enough cups, plates, knives, forks, and spoons for a picnic for 100,000 people. This year various events were organised across Africa to celebrate ICC. One of these events took place in Simonstown, South Africa, where over 70 divers from the  UCT Underwater Club, False Bay Underwater Club and South African Navy all participated in a diving cleanup event as part of UCT’s CleanDIVER initiative, which was supported by PlasticsSA, SANParks, the Ocean Conservancy, Kelpak and the Save Our Seas Shark Centre.

Source: Ocean Conservancy 

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One Response to “International Coastal Cleanup Day Creates a Vision for Trash Free Seas”

  1. Kyle October 27, 2012 at 2:22 am #

    I love lots of good input. I figure the more I learn the smarter I get. I’m in college and I can use this information.

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