Doran Beach is a Sonoma County favorite. On any good weather day people line up to enjoy the mellow surf, the expansive sand and the beautiful views. Youth participating in a recent Surf Camp got to enjoy all of that.
They also got a peek into the escalating threat of marine debris, one of the large issues confronting the ocean environments.
Cea Higgins, a volunteer with Sonoma Coast Surfrider Foundation, met the kids one foggy morning and gathered them in a circle to talk about what they most loved about the ocean. Then she passed around photos of the tiny scraps of multi-colored plastics that collect on beaches these days.
“These plastics build up in the stomachs of various animals and slowly kill them,” Higgins told them. “Animals also get entangled in old nets and fishing line.”
To underscore the magnitude of the issue, Higgins asked each kid to take a piece of garbage. Working with familiar items that ranged from tin cans and banana peels, disposable diapers and fishing line, she then asked them to form a timeline by predicting which items decomposed most quickly.
Campers were surprised to learn that plastic objects like water bottles and discarded fishing line can take up to 500 years to decompose. Some items never do.
You may have read about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a region of the ocean in which garbage concentrates. There are many such places around the planet. Our production of disposable plastic items has created a real problem scientists are just now starting to get a handle on.
In addition to impacting wildlife, reefs and other habitats can become smothered by garbage, boats can be compromised by entanglement and revenues can plummet for beaches that are marred by too much garbage. Marine debris is significant problem for coastal communities throughout the world.
But while any environmental issue can be a downer, Higgins invited campers to brainstorm the solutions.
“If we recycle our plastics, we can keep them out of the landfill,” one camper suggested.
“We don’t need to bring water bottles to the beach; we can use our refillable bottles,” another piped in. And before long, they had come up with a full suite of choices that consumers can make to reduce marine debris. Higgins also told them about new technologies coming online to create plastic from plant materials that break down much more quickly.
Surf Campers then grabbed buckets and gloves to do their own small beach cleanup, gathering up everything from cigarette butts, the most common item found on beach cleanups, to Bat-Moose pajamas.
Satisfied with their own contribution to ocean stewardship, the campers returned to their wet suits and surfboards and reported a higher level of appreciation for the fragility of the ocean environment as they headed out into the waves.
Sonoma County Regional Parks wants to be part of the solution to marine debris, and on Sept. 17 will join the International Coastal Cleanup Day at Doran and Pinnacle Gulch parks.
Last year, more than 750,000 volunteers gathered nearly 14 million items from the world’s beaches. Coordinated by the Ocean Conservancy, these cleanups are part of a global initiative to change policies and technologies and achieve “trash free seas.”