By Linnaea Weld
*See the full details for The Watershed Project’s 2015 Coastal Cleanup Day 2015 events here*
In June, I had the pleasure of attending a lecture by Captain Charles Moore. Moore is an oceanographer and was the first person to find and document the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the mass of trash trapped in the North Pacific Gyre. Moore presented his findings from his most recent voyage into the gyre to a packed house at the Berkeley City Club. Following the lecture, there was a panel discussing the solutions to plastic pollution.
While the information was already familiar to me, and probably to many of the folks in the audience, there was one major takeaway that guides the efforts of Coastal Cleanup Day. The message that was repeated over and over again is that source reduction is the only way to truly keep plastic out of the ocean.
As an intern beginning to embark on planning Coastal Cleanup Day 2015 (which will be on Sept. 19!), this was not what I needed to hear. What’s the point of rallying hundreds of volunteers across Contra Costa County to haul trash out of waterways and off coastlines, when experts are saying that this is not the main solution? Maybe you, one of our many Coastal Cleanup Day volunteers, even feel this way. You came out to Albany Bulb, or Shimada, or one of our other sites, and the next day or week when you went back, high tide had washed more trash in.
This summer, I’ve done a lot of reading about Coastal Cleanup Day. As I prepared to rally groups of volunteers, and recruit and meet with site captains for other areas, I spent time perusing the Coastal Commission website and the Ocean Conservancy reports. Despite disheartening news that the ratio of plastic to plankton in the gyre has grown to 100:1 and feeling like individuals alone cannot stop this problem, I am here to tell you how important Coastal Cleanup Day really is!
Coastal Cleanup Day had its humble beginnings back in 1984 when a concerned Oregon citizen named Judie Nelson brought 2,800 volunteers out to clean up Oregon’s coastlines. In 1985, California joined this movement under the direction of the California Coastal Commission. In 1986, The Ocean Conservancy jumped aboard and International Coastal Cleanup day began. Today, over 150 countries participate in Coastal Cleanup Day. In 2014, 561,895 volunteers participated. This international event that removes millions of pounds of trash started with an individual’s idea.
As the event has grown, so has the purpose. This day has become as much about data collection as it is about picking up trash. Volunteers tally the trash they find. This is what most inspired me to believe in the global good of Coastal Cleanup Day. All the data that volunteers collect is sent back to the Ocean Conservancy, which uses the numbers to create policy change. We can see those changes here in our own community: California is the first state to implement a plastic bag ban. Cities including Oakland, Berkeley, and Pittsburg have banned disposable takeout containers. Without the data showing us how abundant plastic bags and takeout containers were becoming in our watersheds, this policy may not have passed. The data collected makes a difference.
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of trash in our oceans. However, as citizen scientists, we all have the power to help collect data and influence policy. I hope you join us at one of our Coastal Cleanup Day sites this year to take part.