Recently, my husband and I had the opportunity to travel across the southern gulf coast of the United States. The anticipation of visiting new shorelines and wildlife inhabiting these areas was almost too much. However, what we actually found was dismal and sad. It appears that humans have left their mark on the beaches in the form of refuse. Plastic containers and bags, glass bottles, abandoned tents and sun shades, and general debris littered hundreds of miles, if not more, of beach. Although it was obvious that a bit of the garbage had washed up during high tide, it was heartbreaking that the majority was left by visitors. This kind of blatant disregard for nature is simply unacceptable.
Several species of shore birds were our constant companions during our time spent in these areas. Seagulls, plovers, and curlews were frequently observed searching through rubbish entangled seaweed for a meal. More than once we witness birds struggling to free themselves from discarded fishing line. In addition, we occasionally found dead fish among the tangled mess. We later found out that a recent red algae bloom had been the cause.
Beverage containers and plastic bags filled with sand were the most common discarded items. We were absolutely dumbfounded as to why anyone would pay money to drive 10 km or more down the beach to spend the day and leave their rubbish behind. There is no explanation for this type of ignorance.
It is well known that a floating “island” of garbage the size of the US state of Texas has been located in the South Pacific. Plastic has been identified as a common cause of death via ingestion, strangulation, or other bodily injury to a variety of species that inhabit the ocean or around shorelines. Fishing nets and lines regularly entangle marine life and birds leading to their demise. Endangered Sea turtles loose flippers because of entanglement with ropes and lines, and are found with fishing hooks in their mouths, throat, and stomach. So why then do humans continue to discard these items irresponsibly? Containers for recyclables including old monofilament can be found at beach access points; however, these bins are usually just filled with garbage.
I cannot encourage people enough to be good stewards of nature. If you are fortunate enough to spend time in or near an ocean, please remember to leave no trace of your visit behind. Take all garbage with you and any that you may find. I assure you that the wildlife will thank you for your help. We do not own this planet, but are borrowing it from future generations. With care and compassion we can ensure that there is something left for others to enjoy.