Ocean Blue Blog
by Karisa Boyce
The impact of beach cleanups has always been measured by weight, but this is changing. The stuff that Ocean Blue volunteers are taking off the beach actually doesn’t always weigh much at all. Microplastics, or tiny plastic fragments, can take a long time to pick out and remove from beaches. Even though the activity of collecting microplastics can be quite addictive and satisfying, measuring by weight does not paint an accurate depiction of the true impact being made.
Most of the weight listed by Ocean Blue beach cleanup reports can be attributed to tires found on the beach, along with large debris like buckets, barrels, and even rope. However, the most benefit to marine wildlife comes from taking away microplastics from their habitats. Every piece of plastic you remove saves one fish from eating it, and fish aren’t the only plastic consumers.
Over 200 animal species have been reported to eat plastic. The turtles, dolphins, whales, fish, and birds that we all adore and admire are consuming indigestible plastic particles. Fish are eating plastic and humans are consuming those fish. Does this mean that we’re also consuming plastic through the food chain?
What is more, microplastics choke out phytoplankton, causing a very detrimental process called ocean deoxygenation. We need phytoplankton in the ocean to ensure a healthy habitat for marine animals and produce oxygen for us to breathe. This process in the ocean is responsible for producing at least half of the planet’s oxygen supply! That’s why beach cleanups are so vital. Targeting microplastics that are currently crowding our One World Ocean is essential to making a positive impact for marine animals and humans alike.
It is also important to clean up the larger debris, like plastic bottles and rope, because these are often the source of microplastics. As one example, a plastic bottle could be floating down a river for hundreds of miles and eventually make its way to a hot, sandy beach. The high temperature of the beach then causes the plastic to degrade. What was once a brand new plastic bottle eventually breaks down into tiny particles unable to be seen by the naked eye through what’s called mineralization.
When a volunteer collects a seemingly small portion of microplastics, that person making just as much of an impact than another person who might collect a burlap bag filled with larger debris. So, how can we change the way that we view impact in terms of beach cleanups? We can start by adjusting the way that we deal with the waste after the cleanups. Ocean Blue sorts every single piece of debris recovered by volunteers to ensure that none go to waste. Only those items that are unable to be recycled or reused will go to the landfill.
Ocean Blue volunteers used to collect and dispose of much more than just trash. We encourage folks to leave sand, woody debris, seashells, and other organic matter on the beach. The weight of the organic matter, including the moisture of wet sand and debris, used to be counted as part of the impact from beach cleanups. Now, Ocean Blue does things a little differently.
Ocean Blue takes the time post-cleanup to sort through every piece of debris. We separate the microplastics from the sand and woody debris before returning those to the beach where they belong. Only after everything is dried and sorted do we weigh the recovered items. After the weight is taken, the clean and dry microplastics are sent off to be recycled into new products.
Thousand Pounds of Impact by Volunteers Like You!
Stay tuned for a full impact report to see how much Ocean Blue volunteers are removing from West Coast Beaches! We are still sorting out the microplastic and sand from the larger debris.
Upcoming Beach Cleanups:
5.05.2018 - Roads End State Recreation Lincoln City, OR
5.06.2018 - Gleneden Beach Lincoln City, OR
6.08.2018 - Nye Beach - World Ocean Day Beach Cleanup Newport, OR
6.09.2018 - Nye Beach - Oregon Ocean Day Newport, OR
6.10.2018 - Nye Beach - Walk on the beach Newport, OR
6.16.2018 - Driftwood Beach Waldport, Or
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