Luna Lowsky, Sophie Danner, Brynn Dumbeck, and Maggie Neatherlin extract piles of foam from the dunes.
My daughter, Maggie (age 12), and I participate in a mother/daughter group that wanted to do a community service project. After seeing a series of YouTube videos on marine debris ingestion by albatrosses on Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge, the girls were really moved and wanted to find a way that they could help locally. To help address the problem at the source, they wanted to get debris off the beach and out of the ocean ecosystem where it poses a direct threat to seabirds and other animals. “I was motivated by the pictures and stories about the dead albatrosses who eat plastic and die,” said Brynn Dumbeck, a girl in our group.
So on a sunny Saturday, we carpooled out to Ocean Shores to take part in the annual beach cleanup efforts coordinated by Washington CoastSavers. We hit the beach with our handy-dandy picking tools and a stock-pile of collection bags that they provided. Brynn Dumbeck liked the aspect of working as a part of a coast-wide effort. “It was cool that a lot of people all over were doing the beach cleanup,” she said.
A bundle of balloons found by Maggie Neatherlin.
Before we even got down the length of the access road the girls were excitedly filling their bags. Once on the beach it was only moments before there were victorious shouts of “Hey, I found a plastic water bottle" and “Over here, I need help! I found a huge pile of Styrofoam!"
Together, we collected over 18 large bags full of debris. “We filled bag after bag, after bag of trash. It was surprising to see how much junk ended up on the beach,” noted Maggie. We compared our most unusual finds: a deflated basketball, a bundle of ribbon-festooned balloons, a toothbrush, a rubbery garden glove, a toy soldier. Copious quantities of nylon rope, fishing line, fireworks casings and the omnipresent plastic grocery bags showed up in our piles. We found it particularly poignant when picking up bottle caps, lighters, and flossers after watching the videos of USFWS Deputy Refuge Manager John Klavitter extracting the same types of debris out of the carcasses of albatrosses on Midway.
Sophie Danner, Maggie Neatherlin, Luna Lowsky and Brynn Dumbeck with a few of the many bags of trash they collected.
The experience was very rewarding! Parent Anthea Lawrence extracted a plastic bottle cap from the sand and noted, “Here’s one less piece of plastic for an albatross to eat.” In fact, the girls have expressed interest in doing this again. Sophie Danner, reflected that participating felt like the right thing to do, “…making a difference instead of spending your Saturday in bed or in front of the computer or something." As a wildlife biologist and a mom, I was proud that our group of girls came up with this way to tangibly act as stewards. The fact that we all got spend a day together, in an amazing place, was a bonus.
Upon return, we received an email from CoastSavers noting that the combined effort of the volunteers up and down the coast on that one day removed 15 tons of trash from the ocean ecosystem! Upon reflecting on the experience with the girls, they all said they wanted to do it again, and they hope that more people join in. Maggie notes that marine debris is everywhere, and always will be, “…unless we choose to do something about it. It’s not just going to fix itself, we have to fix it. We have to clean up our own mess. You could live on the other side of the world and you can do something. Wherever you are, you can help.”
To take part in the next beach cleanup visit Washington CoastSavers: http://www.coastsavers.org/
To learn more about marine debris ingestion by albatrosses see the video series by Chris Jordan: http://www.midwayjourney.com/film-trailer/