Doing a coastal cleanup is like making a purchase of time for the future. Your purchasing time that future generations have to enjoy a less polluted coastal environment. Your purchasing the time we all have considering we all rely on the sea to sustain life as we know it. You’re making that purchase with your own time and there are more benefits than you’ll probably ever know.
Why does one spend so much time picking up trash on the beach? You get what you give!
Years of collecting bits of foam, cigarette butts, bottles, and random plastic wrappers have provided a certain bias or perception of humanity that is hardly pleasant and sometimes down right depressing. At the same time, it rewards with the most amazing benefit of becoming an accidental coastal naturalist. The gifts that the sea brings to shore are an added bonus, not to mention the other rewards of enjoying a peaceful oasis of sights, sounds, and smells and the biggie: an improved ecosystem, but we all know litter is bad for us all and cleaning it up only makes sense.
Becoming a seaside naturalist started out as a simple curiosity about what types of shells I was finding during cleanups and has grown into an almost spiritual ritual. It is more than just being a “beachcomber”. Cleaning up debris along the shore while exploring is inclusive and holistic. It is why I believe that finding seaside ground scores like beautiful shells and sea beans are a gift from the sea – like a very personal thank you letter. I often think that it also makes the perception of humanity a little easier to swallow especially on days that it is apparent that our marine debris problem is growing.
Coastal curiosity just comes naturally and soon you find yourself noticing year after year when specific shells are more abundant. I have noticed myself thinking about seasons, swell direction, upwellings, wind, storms, and what washes up with all things considered. Not only shells and other beautiful finds, but the not-so-amazing finds too, like what seaweeds attract bits of foam or how some plastics gather with other “like” plastics in the seaweeds. In the summer, I find more cigarette butts and consumer litter that is fairly new. In the fall, I find a lot of surf fishing tackle and bait containers, and in the winter I see more plastic that has been weathered by the sea and debris with barnacle growth.
The sea is so vast and fascinating that one can’t help but wonder how long an item has been at sea or where it originally came from when it washes up on shore. Maybe that is why explorers years ago were inspired by what they found at the water’s edge. For me, that same seaside wonder inspires peace and resolve.
I encourage anyone to get out there, take part in the global endeavor to rid our seas of debris, make an effort to purchase time for future generations, and while you’re out there, keep a look out for your gift from the sea. I promise it’s better than anything you will get from a department store purchase. You’ll know it’s for you, when you see it or when you feel it. It is an instant thought of “the sea sent this for me”. Whether your gift is a shell, fossilized shark’s tooth, stillness, or a wave you catch and ride to shore, I hope you earned it and I wish you many more. You get what you give, pass it on.