Watching fireworks on the Fourth of July requires a lot of tilting one’s head toward the sky in the dark, but that is no excuse for not checking the ground afterward for any litter left behind. The fleeting colors strewn across the sky in pyrotechnic displays are temporary; the particolored plastic waste strewn across Oregon’s parks and beaches is far more durable.
On Tuesday, July 5th, Oregon Coast Aquarium youth volunteers struck out to collect some of this debris along Yaquina Bay’s South Jetty. What they found in a few hours filled 12 large bags—more than 300 pounds of garbage in all. “The South Beach Jetty is a popular spot for Fourth of July revelers, and unfortunately the trash left behind is direct evidence of that,” said Teresa Mealy, Youth Programs Coordinator at the Aquarium. “It’s amazing how much can accumulate in this area.”
An estimated 80 percent of marine debris originates from land, reaching the sea from natural forces like rivers and wind. This trash comes in countless forms, but plastic is of special concern. Once in the ocean, plastic typically floats in the upper water column, which is home to most sea life. Single use plastic bags are easily mistaken for jellies, a preferred food of hungry sea turtles or ocean sunfish. Improperly disposed recyclable monofilament fishing line can pose an entanglement threat for an estimated 600 years in the marine environment.
Sam Clark, a youth volunteer who has participated in three previous beach clean-ups with the Aquarium, said that while these clean-ups are a great way to get outside, he acknowledges that the work of keeping beaches clean should not fall to volunteer work crews. “It’s really not that difficult to pack out your trash,” he said. “Everyone just has to do their part, even while having fun on a holiday.”
People can make a difference all year, wherever they are, by minimizing their daily use of plastics and properly disposing of their waste. The Aquarium also encourages people to pack out any trash they find as they enjoy Oregon’s beautiful rivers, lakes and coastlines throughout the summer. Join the Aquarium, Oregon State Parks and SOLVE at South Beach State Park on September 24 to pick up beach litter and help the sea!