Growing up, a cobalt blue piece of something rolling around with the shells at the shoreline meant the find of the day. Blue sea glass! The only question was whether it truly qualified as a keeper: was it tumbled smooth on all sides? Now, during my beach walks and runs, there are many cobalt blue sightings, but the enthusiasm is long gone. These colorful bits are, almost without exception, pieces of plastic.
On a trip to scenic Eleuthera a few years ago I became aware of the extent of the plastic debris problem affecting the world's beaches. When a jostling, bumpy off road drive through a scrub forest to a surf break opened up to a beautiful beach vista, I couldn't wait to get a closer look. When I focused on the beach itself, what I saw was hard to grasp. Simply put, amid the absolute technicolor brilliance of the beach, was a plastics dump. Hundreds and hundreds of yards of plastic material in every color and of various uses had been tossed from the Atlantic and onto this beach as it's final resting place. (Unless, of course, it was lower than the high tide line, which would guarantee passage to another shore at the next tide change.) In pieces of every size and shape (plastics don't break down, just into smaller and smaller fractions) I was also finding plastic chips embraced by seaweed. I found pieces jammed into the chambers of seashells. And sadly, I realized that these colorful pieces were speckling the sand in fragments the size of a pin head. By extension, it isn't hard to understand this process continues to the point where it's invisible to the naked eye and moving side by side with nutritious plankton, becoming part of a sea creature's diet. Plastic, it seems, is forever and infinite. It affects all marine animal and bird life.
It was a very depressing day at the beach.
Since then, I realize that there is a new world order for our beaches, with a great deal of momentum behind it. Some gyres in our oceans now host giant slicks of plastic garbage which are caught in these circular currents and very possibly coming to a beach near you. One you frequent, or one you just spent a few thousand dollars to get to.
Reducing or eliminating single use plastic from our day-to-day should be a goal for all of us. Grassroots efforts to ban plastic bags for more eco-friendly paper or reusable (a personal favorite) have gained traction worldwide. While shopping, look for alternatives to plastic packaging, and if possible, reach for the glass or cardboard carton. And of course, always recycle.
If you have any questions regarding our donation program to the Surfrider Foundation, please don't hesitate to use the contact form and we will respond as soon as possible. Donations are made quarterly, and unless requested otherwise, are sent to the Jersey Shore Chapter.