The ICC is the world’s largest grassroots effort to both bring awareness to and combat the issue of marine debris. Last year more than 12 million pounds of trash were removed from our waterways, and almost 13,000 miles of shoreline were cleaned.
These are impressive numbers, particularly when you imagine the potential impact those 650,000 volunteers could have on healthy marine environments if they choose to continue to take action or advocate for healthy oceans. There is no doubt that the commitment of those many volunteers this weekend will make a real difference in our environment.
Marine debris is affecting the health of wildlife aquatic habitats and human communities. We need to combat it wherever and whenever we can. But we will only begin to see long-term change when we (as individuals and communities) start to change our behaviors in a way that makes a difference.
Yes, participating in a cleanup event absolutely makes a difference, and I would like to preemptively thank everyone that will lend a hand this weekend. I propose this type of participation is the most effective method for getting us to connect our individual actions to environmental health. I’ve been involved in the ICC for more than 20 years (the last 15 being here at the National Aquarium), and time and time again I’ve seen how simply participating in the act of removing litter from our beaches reaffirms our commitment to clean water.
But year after year, we are simply picking up more trash. As a global community, we are not affecting the amount of debris entering our waterways over time. We participate in trash cleanups and recycle, but we are not addressing the issue at its real source. The top ten items picked up from the ICC are all single-use disposable items.
Until we make a choice to reduce or eliminate these items from our daily lives, we are going to continue to fight an uphill battle. There are many choices we can make to take that next step. These range from simply using reusable water bottles or shopping bags, to asking a single friend or family member to join you in your efforts, to fighting for more comprehensive recycling programs in our own communities, to advocating for sustainable packaging programs.
So, I encourage you to take those next steps. First, join a cleanup effort in your own community, or join the National Aquarium Conservation team in one of our cleanup efforts this fall. Next, decide what you can do to make a difference to ensure the future health of our waterways.