According to estimates, there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Picture: Brian Yurasits/Unsplash
According to estimates, there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Picture: Brian Yurasits/Unsplash

International Coastal Clean-up Day: Let's rid our coastlines of tons of garbage and plastic

By Dominic Naidoo Time of article published Sep 17, 2021

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September 18, 2021 marks this year's official International Coastal Clean-up event. First observed in 1986, the day is now commemorated annually on the third Saturday of September and hopes to encourage people to rid our coastlines of tons of garbage and plastic.

Awareness is also spread about preserving and protecting the world’s oceans and waterways.

According to National Day Calendar, “International Coastal Clean-up Day got its start in 1986 when Linda Maraniss met Kathy O’Hara while working for Ocean Conservancy. Maraniss had just moved to Texas from Washington, DC O’Hara had just completed a report called Plastics in the Ocean: More Than a Litter Problem.

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The two of them reached out to other ocean-lovers and organised a Clean-up for Ocean Conservancy.”

More than 2 800 volunteers pitched up for that very first clean-up. Since then, the initiative has gained international traction with well over a hundred countries currently involved.

Living in Durban, I have been involved in several beach clean-ups, some small and some big. The most common types of litter we find on our beaches include cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic straws, plastic bottle caps, and plastic beverage bottles, polystyrene and the odd tyre or two. Plastics are especially harmful as they are non-biodegradable.

The weather and UV Rays make these plastics break down into tiny pieces, which then get infiltrated into the environment. The result is a negative effect on the ecosystem and our food chains.

According to a Consumer Report article titled “How to Eat Less Plastic”, references “a preliminary estimate by some scientists that the plastic the average person may be eating and drinking totals as much as 5 grams per week.”

Plastics break down into tinier and tinier pieces called micro-plastics and then into smaller pieces called nano-plastics. These nano-plastics are in the water we give to our farm animals, they’re in the oceans and rivers we fish from, they’re in the packaging we get out fruits and vegetables in. Eventually, these make it into our bodies.

Picture: Naja Bertolt Jensen/Unsplash

Dr Linda Birnbaum, Retired Director of the American National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program, is concerned that these plastics are making their way into the tissues of our bodies.

“Nano plastics can easily cross all kinds of barriers, whether it’s the blood-brain barrier or the placental barrier, and get into our tissues,” Birnbaum has said. Breathing in nano plastics might introduce them into our cardiovascular system and bloodstream, for example.

According to estimates, there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. While some of these plastics were dumped directly into the sea, some of them were swept into the sea from the coastline. By ridding beaches of plastic and other garbage, it lessens the likelihood of it ending up in the ocean.

If you live near the ocean, a river or a lake, grab some gloves, a sun hat, a couple of binbags and head down to pick up some garbage. Make it an event, invite friends or colleagues, grab some coffee afterwards. One bag is not just one bag if a thousand people make an effort.

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