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Cleaning up our Waterways

Good clean fun with The SeaChange Agency

The waterfront of Marina Del Rey looks like a postcard from paradise.

Luxury yachts sail smoothly over the blue waters and sun-seeking tourists lounge in seaside parks. But look a little closer, and you’ll notice a not-so-postcard-worthy detail: the water is teeming with trash. From food wrappers and straws to toys and flip flops, the ocean in this LA-area marina is full of all types of waste, forcing local marine life to swim through a liquid garbage dump as their home.

Good clean fun

If you keep your eyes on the water, you may see a group of paddleboarders armed with nets and buckets, plucking garbage from the ocean. These volunteers are taking part in cleanups run by The SeaChange Agency, a non-profit organization working to improve marine ecosystems for sea turtles and all the oceans’ inhabitants.

The organization arranges paddleboard cleanups for groups that range from businesses to schools and community groups. While they also run shoreline beach cleanups, vice president Erin Politz says paddleboard cleanups provide a different perspective that gets people intrigued about participating.

“It’s a unique experience so people are excited about it. It’s fun and people feel good about it,” says Politz. “It also brings it home that the trash on land does end up in the ocean. And I don’t think you can get that fact when you’re on the beach.”

The polluted water in Marina Del Rey

Groups of up to 10 participants can head out into the ocean with a board, a bucket, a net and gloves. Politz says there’s no experience necessary—the group leader will teach you how to balance and paddle your board. After about 90 minutes collecting trash on the water, the paddleboarders head back to shore where they sort their collected garbage into different categories. The purpose of the sorting is twofold: it allows the group to consolidate their findings and discover common themes, while also allowing The SeaChange Agency to record and report the types of materials that are most pervasive.

“It’s good to get participants to take a look at how they’re contributing to what we found in the water,” says Politz. Whether it’s plastic straws, pens or chip bags, it becomes clear that we all have a hand in the problem, and can all contribute to the solution.

Peter Seney from the Lush Public Relations team recently attended a paddleboarding cleanup, and was shocked at the amount of trash in the water.

“I was stunned particularly by the amount of plastic straws and stuff like that–something so useless. It was so eye opening to see it firsthand. Now I think, if I use a reusable cup, or say no to a straw, then that’s one less thing that may end up in the water.”

From land to sea

It may be difficult to imagine how this trash makes its way into our waterways, and how you could in fact be contributing to it unwittingly. We often think we’re doing our part by putting our trash or recycling in a designated bin. But the truth is, the waste we produce can still find its way to our oceans where it’s disrupting ecosystems and harming marine life.

Trash and recycling material often gets blown off garbage cans or transfer trucks in the wind. Garbage on the ground eventually gets washed into storm drains which flush directly into waterways. So even if you’re responsibly disposing of your waste, it’s possible that your trash is still finding its way to the ocean. The best way to reduce your impact is to reduce your waste.

How to help

The SeaChange Agency suggests taking simple steps that will add up to a whole lot less trash in our oceans:

-Consider asking for your drink without a straw

-Use a reusable mug or bottle

-Bring your own shopping bag

-Choose unpackaged or minimally packaged products

Politz says “it almost feels impossible to not use plastic in your daily life. But even lessening your footprint a little bit really goes a long way. If everybody could refuse a straw or bring their reusable water bottle…it really will make a difference over time.”