International Coastal Cleanup Day: What It Is and Why You Should Care

09/15/2016 04:04 am ET

In a world where it seems like there is a day for everything, some of the more worthy ones can get lost in the crowd. And while I’m not exactly complaining about Eat Ice Cream For Breakfast Day (6th February – mark your calendars) there are others that do raise an eyebrow, National Felt Hat Day anyone? (15th September if you’re wondering).

But if there is one day, in particular, I think we should take a little more notice of it’s International Coastal Cleanup day.

Coming around each year on the third Saturday of September, this day is about more than tweeting out a great beach snap. It’s about action, awareness and cleaning up coastal regions worldwide.

What Is It?

Pioneered by Ocean Conservancy, a US-based charity dedicated to protecting the ocean and its inhabitants, International Coastal Cleanup Day brings volunteers from all over the world to their local beach. The day is described as the world’s largest volunteer effort to clean up the coast. They state, ‘11.5 million volunteers from 153 countries have collected 220 million pounds of trash’. But it’s about more than just collecting rubbish, the charity catalogues the type and location of each piece to build an overarching image of the world’s coastal waste problems. This information can then be used to identify trends, inform researchers and provide a much-needed insight to help develop solutions to tackle this problem.

With existing events happening across the world, you can join an established party or set up your own.

If you’re in the UK, check out The Great British Beach Clean taking place 16th-19th September. Organised by the Marine Conservation Society, there are events located up and down the coast seeing volunteers cleaning up the UK’s beaches.

If you’re based in London, check out Thames 21. With ongoing events throughout September, this charity works to clean up London’s riverbanks while collecting data on the state of the area. Just turn up. Wellies are provided. Fun finds are (almost) guaranteed.

Why You Should Care:

Last year, I lived on a tiny island in Indonesia for a few months. Besides coming home with a great tan and a new profile picture, I saw first-hand the impact human life is having on coastal areas. Each week we did a beach clean which consisted of wandering down the waterfront, bin bag in hand, collecting an astonishing array of rubbish. From cigarette butts to syringes, crisp packets to plastic straws, the sheer amount of waste littering these otherwise pristine beaches shocked me, without fail, week after week.

It was clear there was, and still is, a problem.

Beyond the chance to come across something interesting (notable finds have been a wig, a tea cup and a message in a bottle) there’s a bigger point behind the clean-up. We’ve all heard that Earth is over 70% water, but did you know how much that water affects your daily life. Even living inland, the health of the ocean can deeply affect the food you eat, the water you drink and your day-to-day living standards. As Ocean Conservancy highlights, every other breath you take comes from the ocean. That fact alone should spur action.

As well as being ugly and unnecessary, rubbish is affecting the ocean and the wildlife that depends on it. Turtles, seals and birds mistake rubbish for food. Once ingested, waste becomes incredibly harmful and in some cases deadly. Whales are weighed down by non-biodegradable waste. Water becomes polluted and wildlife and human life are hit hard.

“Every year, an estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic waste flows into the ocean, and without concerted global action, there could be one ton of plastic for every 3 tons of fin fish by 2025,” said Nicholas Mallos, director, Trash Free Seas Program at Ocean Conservancy. “From participating in beach and waterway cleanups like the International Coastal Cleanup to creating less trash, we can all play a part in keeping our ocean clean and join a global movement working toward a future of trash free seas.”

What You Can Do That Day:

Join a clean-up either with Ocean Conservancy, the Marine Conservation Society, Thames 21 or a similar charity in your area. Or go it alone and litter pick a waterway near you. Ocean Conservancy has a nifty DIY toolkit if you’re flying solo and there’s even an app to keep track and add your own finds to the waste database.

What You Can Do Every Day:

Go beyond 17th September 2016. Dispose of plastics responsibly or go one better and minimise the amount you buy in the first place. Use ashtrays, reusable bottles and say no to single use straws. If you’re in the UK, back the recent government bid to ban microbeads - tiny pieces of plastic used in beauty and household products which clog waterways and kill animals. Pick up litter in waterways whenever walking, swimming or scuba diving past.

Say no to dangerous waste and yes to a clean and healthy ocean.

We are discovering more and more each day just how integral the ocean is to human life. As the rubbish mounts up, put your Saturday to good use and join a coastal clean-up near you. Sharing the date with National Eat An Apple day, International Coastal Cleanup Day is happening 17th September 2016. Get your hands dirty and get cleaning – and have a granny smith while you’re at it.

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