One stretch of turtle nesting beach is now free from 534 kgs/1177 lbs of trash, thanks to the efforts of a group of volunteers on Utila.
Several of the island’s beaches host critically endangered Hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) and vulnerable Loggerhead turtles (caretta caretta) during their annual nesting. The rocky beach we chose on Utila’s South Shore is a known nesting area for Hawksbills, and is only reachable by boat from the main town. Tuesday’s clean up event was the first time (at least recently) that area has been part of an organized cleaning effort, although from the enthusiasm of the volunteers, it won’t be the last.
The state of the shoreline was appalling, but sadly also unsurprising. A friend had sent us photos a few days before the clean up so that we could show just what we were up against, and wow was there a lot of trash. The beach is just at the right spot to catch the currents as they flow into the island from the East, so it’s not altogether unexpected that there would be quite a bit of debris. But the sheer amount is still difficult to comprehend without experiencing it first hand.
Fortunately, the community here in Utila was up to the challenge. 72 volunteers turned out to help, collecting 77 bags full of an incredible 534 kgs/1177 lbs of garbage. We managed to cover about 150 meters in just over 2 hours, with people working in teams, sorting the items as they went.
We categorized then weighed the debris, with recyclable plastic bottles making up the greatest volume, but large non-recyclables the greatest by weight. Styrofoam (polystyrene) came in third in weight and volume, and small non-recyclable last, though a full bag of toothbrushes proved to be the biggest shock to people. We used the toothbrushes and other small, common items to create our “Say No To Plastic” beach art (top).
We were encouraged by the amount of support shown by the community for the clean up effort, and by the success of the collection. We hope to continue hosting clean ups in the same area, as we know there will always be more trash to collect. We also found evidence of recent turtle activity along the beach, so we know our efforts are very much needed. With all of the threats marine turtles face (poaching, pollution, plastic ingestion, fishing gear entanglement), it’s really the least we can do.
But I hope we can do better, that we can all do better. How? By not buying so much plastic, by not using things once and throwing them away, by making better choices and by encouraging others to do the same. Cleaning up a beach is just a temporary fix. Stopping marine litter at its source– us, the consumer– is a much better, though much harder solution. So raise awareness, join in Plastic Free July, get your reusable water bottle, stop shopping, do whatever you can. For the turtles, for the ocean, for yourself, for your children and your children’s children.