I heard about the SOLVE Spring Oregon Beach Cleanup awhile back and was excited to get involved this year. I volunteered as a group leader, naming our group ‘Keep Oregon Beautiful’, and found a nearby location that needed more volunteers. On the drive there on Saturday, it was raining and then cleared up right before we arrived at the beach. The skies were clear the whole time we were there and the wind was so mellow, that I felt pretty lucky it turned out that way. (It immediately started raining when we got back in our car, and that really made me feel lucky.)
We were handed plastic gloves and bags and we set off down the beach. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we got there because I had seen some beaches in the area with lots of debris and others with hardly any. We went to the Carl B. Wasburne beach north of Florence and though at first glance the beach looked pretty clean, we ended up finding plenty of debris that needed picking up. In fact, once we started looking for it, there was more than plenty. There was plastic everywhere. I marveled that I had gone to the beaches in this area so many times and never noticed how many tiny bits of plastic there were, but as soon as I was on my hands and knees, with a bag in my hand, I was overwhelmed by how many plastic bits I was finding. (The small pieces of plastic are harmful to marine life, who sometimes mistake them for fish eggs and eat them.) The experience was quite a wake up call for me and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at our beaches the same again.
I felt a mixture of discouragement (‘there’s so much plastic, I could stay in this single spot for days, how will we ever clean it all up?’) and hope (look at all these people out here working together to clean up this beach, look at all these bags of garbage we’re hauling out of here, it’s looking so much better already!) Seeing it all firsthand made me feel an even deeper commitment to further reducing the use of plastic in our household. To me, all that plastic garbage looked like a world gone mad. Plastic is toxic for us, the animals, and the environment… so I’m brainstorming ways to use less of it. (Please share your ideas!)
Bracken found some pieces of plastic crates and dragged them down the beach with a rope. Jeff was sick with a bug at home and didn’t join us for the beach cleanup. I had wondered, though, how bending over again and again would have been for his back and sciatic pain had he been able to come that day. A friend brought a “grabber” (what is the technical term?) and was able to pick up garbage while still standing. It was a great idea! (And the perfect solution for Jeff.) I saw an elderly couple using them as well, and thought it was great to see both young and old alike involved in cleaning up our beaches.
This year I didn’t get my act together soon enough to spread the word as early as I would have liked to, but next year I plan to get organized much earlier. I’m so glad to be making the Spring Oregon Beach Cleanup a yearly tradition now! I had a vision of getting lots of kids involved in this because I feel it’s so important. I still have that vision in my heart for next year. But even though we had a small group this year, we made a big impact. And that felt really good. There were quite a few other volunteers we saw at that location and everyone was smiling at each other, holding bags filled with garbage, and looking around at how much more beautiful the beach looked when we left. We did haul away a lot of garbage in three hours and it felt satisfying. The ocean is a place of rejuvenation for me, a healing place, and cleaning up our beaches a bit that day felt like I was giving back and saying thanks in my own small way.
And guess what? This year 4,800 volunteers removed nearly 90,000 pounds of litter and marine debris from the Oregon coast! There were 45 check-in sites coastwide. From their site: “The beach cleanups are a bi-annual tradition dating back to 1984. In the last 32 years nearly 250,000 SOLVE volunteers have removed an estimated 3.3 million pounds of trash.” “Marine debris is one of the biggest issues facing our oceans and beaches,” said Maureen Fisher, CEO of SOLVE. “From a single bottle cap to discarded fishing gear, every piece of trash picked up today has a tremendous impact on the health of Oregon’s wildlife and coastal communities.”
Wherever we live, whether it’s near the ocean or not, it’s up to all of us to work together to care for the land around us, reduce our impact, and keep it beautiful. It’s easy to get discouraged by the enormity of the task and not take action, but seeing so many Oregonians rally together this last weekend for the health of our beaches was inspiring and goes to show what an impact each of us can have and how much good can be done when we work together.