By Juliana Gonzalez
In the fading summer sun, I took my family for one last picnic along the East Bay shoreline. My daughter brought her little mermaid doll “Ariel” for a splash, and placed her atop a sand castle decorated with colorful pieces of plastic and shells she had found on the beach. As the tide rolled in, a large wave swept Ariel away. My six-year old daughter started to scream, “Mommy! Save my Ariel from ending up in the Pacific Garbage Patch or by being eaten by a large fish!” I sprinted through the frothy tide, searching for the lost princess, but it was too late. The little mermaid was gone– her fate uncertain.
On the way home, I could not stop thinking about the mermaid princess. I blamed myself for buying the little plastic toy, and allowing my daughter to bring it to the beach. I was also proud and amazed at the fact that my six-year old knows that plastic taken by the waves will likely end up in one of the multiple plastic patches that swirl in our oceans, or that it could end up in the belly of a fish or other sea creature. I also felt heartbroken that I am raising my child in a planet trashed with marine debris.
As I day dreamed about the fate of the plastic toy, I realized that Ariel could end up anywhere on the planet. She could have washed ashore in a local marsh just a few miles away, or she could have made her way under the Golden Gate into the Pacific. From there, she could make her way to Japan or any other shore in the planet. Just as likely, she could get trapped in a whirlpool in one of the 5 Gyres or garbage patches in the ocean, where she would slowly break into smaller and smaller pieces, traveling deeper and deeper into the water column, offering toxic bites to the ocean’s wild life.
But in the fight against marine debris, little toys are not the most commonly found item along the shores and creeks of the planet. The Ocean Conservancy has been collecting information about the types and amounts of trash reaching our oceans for years. According to their latest report, cigarette filters make over 30% followed by food wrappers, caps/lids, disposable foodware (plates, cups and utensils), plastic bottles and plastic bags. According to the Ocean Conservancy, “during the 2009 cleanup, 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.”
As September approaches, I am ready to take my pledge to help reduce marine debris. I promise to never forget my re-usable water bottle, to bring my own canvas bag to the store, and to stop buying disposable foodware. I will also look for Ariel during the international Coastal Cleanup Day and will bring out as many friends as possible to look for the little doll and to help eliminate the load of trash that will reach the ocean this year. Please help me. Come out to a creek or shore near you and join me, and the millions of volunteers that will be turning out to clean on September 17th. For information regarding the Cleanup at Shimada Friendship Park, the Albany Beach or at other sites around Contra Costa County go to The Watershed Project’s event website and register today. I will even offer a reward for the little princess.