Cleaning Up the Beach

I have to be honest with myself regarding what I usually do on a Saturday morning. I lie at home, sleeping or scrolling on the Internet, and the days are actually few and far between where I do anything productive before about noon. But even I recognize that that isn’t good all the time. Sure, self-care is incredibly important, but sometimes you just have to look outside yourself and do things for the greater good of humanity. So it was a blessing in disguise when a class project forced me to get out of the house for once and go to sunny Surfer’s Point in Ventura, California, where I would volunteer my time to the Surfrider Foundation of Ventura County. Not only would I have to pay close attention to the local topography of the beach, I would also have to put my back into it and work to clean up the beach myself. It didn’t seem fun at first. But looking back, I wouldn’t have changed anything I did that day.

Admittedly, it was less than riveting to have to drive at 9 in the morning for an hour, from my house in Simi Valley to the coasts of Ventura. But once I actually got there, I felt a lot better about what I was doing. The beaches were sprawling and beautiful, and I could feel the ocean spray misting my face. The coastal atmosphere was like nothing I experienced in my daily urban life, and I truly felt like I was being rejuvenated just by standing near the waters. But I wasn't just there for sightseeing. No, this was about the job I was doing and the lesson I was learning by being here. Quickly, I signed in at the setup tent, got my bucket, my grabber, and my bright orange vest, and headed off to work.

At first, when I stepped out onto the rocky landscape of the beach, I didn't find much trash. During the first 10 minutes, I mostly just found sea glass. but as I looked more, and I started reaching my little trash grabber under the pier, I really started to see what the problem was, why everyone was here so early in the morning. It's one thing to read about the ocean’s growing population of plastic in an abstract sense, to hear numbers so unfathomable that they completely get overlooked. But it's quite another thing to be out there on the beach, in the sunny March weather, picking up every single bit of plastic ware with your own hands. It's another thing to pick up blister packs, candy wrappers, six-pack rings, and water bottlesswondering what would happen if a sea turtle swallowed just enough of it, and it's another thing to have America's lurking smoking problem put into perspective when you fill up the entire bottom of your bucket with cigarette butts discarded on to the rocky shores. I realized why I was here, in the thick of it, instead of just writing an essay.

                                                                        Image Credit to Author

I will admit, I haven’t spent much time over the course of my life thinking about the impact I had on Mother Earth. I didn't pop out of the womb as some kind of perfect environmental warrior, automatically able to know what I should do. But I didn't have to be to get something out of that experience. I was just a normal person, completely oblivious to the impact that my choices had on the Earth, and I learned something that day about how my personal choices really do matter in the grand scheme of things. I'm not just a drop in the bucket; my bad choices do damage, but my good choices can also change things for the better. Even now, I'm still not perfect. I get caught up in busy college life, and I don't have time to attend to everything. But I have made choices about things that I would ordinarily wouldn't even notice. I drink from metal straws instead of using plastic ones. I use a reusable water bottle instead of purchasing the plastic ones that I had to pick up time and time again. I emailed my assignments whenever possible, and I take my notes online so that I don't use as much paper. I've changed the little things, just based on this experience.

You're exactly the same way. You don't have to be perfect, changing every single aspect of your daily routine and breaking your back to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Taking care of the Earth isn't an Olympian tournament to see who can be the most objectively “good” person. Going out every couple of Saturdays, or even just one Saturday every couple of months, and cleaning up a beach instead of lying around the house does make an impact and it is better than apathy. Putting your energy towards the upkeep of Mother Earth enriches both you and your community. It makes me wonder what kind of change would be made if this country's legislators were forced to go out on their own local beaches, pick up the trash themselves, and see concretely what kind of impact collective apathy has on the Earth, instead of just pigeonholing legislation that would make the world a better place to live in for everyone.