A guy in the car ahead of you flicks his cigarette butt out the window. It washes down a storm drain and the next day floats out of a road culvert into a tidal estuary. And there’s the butt, washed up next to you on your favorite beach. It’s only a little soggier than the other butts people have stuffed into the sand around you. Ashtray Beach.
Your neighbor ties half a dozen mylar balloons to her mailbox to let parents know where to drop off their kids for her daughter’s birthday party. But she’s not too good with knots, and the ribbons are slippery. A little breeze comes along and the balloons float away. They land a couple of miles offshore and then wash in to the beach to join the butts.
The garbage can at the crosswalk leading to the beach is overflowing. Someone has tried to stuff three empty single-use plastic water bottles into the pile, but they pop right back out, blow across the street and land on the beach next to the party balloons and among the cigarette butts.
And we ask ourselves how the hell our beaches get so foul.
It’s a million little thoughtless actions added together. Some of us are just plain slobs, like the suburban warrior in his shiny pickup truck, zooming to the town dump on Saturday morning with plastic bags floating out the back — but we’re all guilty now and then, and there are millions of us creating the trash that makes its way into the water we love to boat and swim in.
The only good news is that a million thoughtless actions can be offset by a million thoughtful ones, and gradually we’re getting smarter and more organized about fighting the tragic load of trash and plastic in our oceans and waterways.
There are plenty of worthy outfits behind these efforts, like Ocean Defender, the NOAA Marine Debris Program, and the Plastic Pollution Coalition. But two organizations that boaters in particular can and should get behind, because they promote and coordinate direct action by people who love the water, are The Ocean Conservancy and Sailors for the Sea.
The Conservancy runs the annual International Coastal Cleanup, which this year happens on Saturday, September 17th. It’s the 30th anniversary of the effort, which last year saw almost 800,000 volunteers worldwide collect over 18 million pounds of trash from the coastlines of the world. Although there’s a lot of focus on that one day, the aim is to keep the volunteer spirit alive throughout the year. If you’ve ever participated in a cleanup, you know how much easier it gets to reach down and pick up a plastic bottle off the sand, or to stop your boat and net up a mylar balloon floating in your path. To get involved, visit the Conservancy’s Cleanup Locations page. Or just grab a trash bag and a pair of gloves and get going. And if you’d like to help the scientists and researchers gather data to be able to fight the trash monster more effectively, you can download the Clean Swell app, log what you bag, and have your result recorded in a database online.
Sailors for the Sea was founded in 2004 by David Rockefeller, Jr., a lifelong conservationist, with the idea that all boaters (not just sailors) love the water and are in a good position to watch out for it and help take care of it. The organization focuses its efforts on several fronts — clean boating, kids’ environmental education, and the scientific study of ocean issues. They recently released a Green Boating Guide that can be read online or downloaded, with tips on responsible boat maintenance, pollution prevention, clean fuels and conservation, eco-friendly products, responsible fishing, and more. Read some good advice for boaters from the Waste Disposal and Recycling section of the guide below.
Grass-roots contributions are the heart and soul of all good efforts. If you want your water and the creatures who swim in it (including yourself) to be healthy, then don’t be afraid to grab someone else’s discarded Dunkin’ cup, stuff it with old cigarette butts and a mylar balloon, and tuck it deep in a trash bag. And if you’re headed to the town dump on Saturday in your pickup, remember to secure that load!
See you out there.
Tips From the Sailors for the Sea Green Boating Guide
Before you leave the dock:
- Buy products in bulk to reduce the amount of packaging you need to discard.
- Remove packaging from products before you carry them onto your boat.
- Choose products sold in recycled and recyclable containers.
- Use reusable containers and items whenever possible.
- Reuse items numerous times – bags, containers, boxes, etc.
- Don’t throw any trash overboard.
- Secure possessions below deck before the seas get rough, so nothing is accidentally lost overboard. If gear is lost, try to recover it by making it a man-overboard drill.
- Cut six-pack rings and similar items so that they do not become a noose for wildlife.
- Practice Plus One Boating by bringing back whatever you take out, plus one trash item you find.
Back on land:
- Take all trash ashore and dispose of it appropriately, either by recycling what you can (paper, plastic, glass, cans, plastics, antifreeze, oil, lead batteries, fishing gear and fishing line) or by placing it in the correct marina dumpster, or as part of your home waste system.
- Encourage marinas to offer recycling facilities if they don’t already.