For Earth Day 2019, we offer up these ideas for better, safer, healthier beaches for humans, marine life — and for the future, too.
Butts off the beach: Don’t leave cigarette butts on the beach. For the last three decades, discarded butts are the number one item of trash collected during the Ocean Conservancy’s annual beach cleanups worldwide. The plastic fibers of cigarette butts often disintegrate into microplastics easily consumed by wildlife, the conservancy reports, with researchers finding the fibers in 70 percent of seabirds and 30 percent of sea turtles.
Ditch the plastic: Sea turtles think plastic shopping bags look like jellyfish, a favored meal. The bags can cause intestinal blockage and eventual death. For eight years, the Outer Banks banned plastic bags at grocery stores, until the law was repealed in 2017. Other plastics, like straws, also pose a danger to turtles and other marine wildlife. In fact, marine plastic pollution has impacted at least 267 species worldwide, including 86 percent of all sea turtle species, 44 percent of all seabird species and 43 percent of all marine mammal species. The impacts include of ingestion, starvation, suffocation, infection, drowning and entanglement, according to Clean Water Action.
Stay off the dunes: Sand dunes are important to our system of barrier islands, defending our sandbar from coastal storms and beach erosion. “They absorb the impact of storm surge and high waves, preventing and delaying flooding and damage to structures,” the Town of Kitty Hawk reports. “They are also sand storage areas that supply sand to eroded beaches during storms and buffer windblown sand and salt spray.” But dunes are highly susceptible to trampling by humans and vehicles.
Leave the beach better than you found it: When you take a trip to the beach, pick up some of the trash you see. Every access has multiple trash and recycle cans for everyone’s use. A new global movement “Take 3 For The Sea” urges beachgoers to pick up and throw away three pieces of plastic each visit. The group says 129 countries participate, with 10 million pieces of trash picked up annually.
Fill in your holes in the sand: In 2017, a Texas woman vacationing with her family in Ocean City, Maryland, died after falling in a hole dug on the beach. Ashley O’Connor, authorities say, was walking on the beach and apparently fell in the hole during the night. It collapsed around her and she was smothered, her body found the next morning. In addition to the danger they pose to humans, holes in the sand can be deadly to sea turtle nestlings, who may get trapped when they hatch. Sea turtle nesting season along the Outer Banks runs from May through August. Dig away, just fill the holes when you leave.