Cleaning up and speaking up: March for the Ocean

Cleaning up and speaking up: March for the Ocean

By Amanda Maxon

The first time I visited a local lake near my undergraduate university, I was shocked. I could smell sulfur and garbage coming from the lake even though I was over a mile away—it was known to be a trash dumping site, and I was there with four other student volunteers to clean it up. When I arrived, the first thing I saw at the pungent lake was a rotting boat filled with beer cans and pizza boxes. This image did not give me the best impression of the cleanup for the day. But the five of us filled 20 large trash bags with plastic, trash, and unrecognizable objects from the mud and shoreline. Six years later, the lake is no longer smelling of garbage, and wildlife has returned, all thanks to the efforts and ongoing commitment of the student cleanup volunteers.    

That wasn’t my first cleanup. I became involved in environmental cleanups at an early age due to the proximity to two major rivers in my hometown. The rivers play a large part in the economy and identity of the town, as millions of people per year travel to the area for recreational water activities, making it a top summer destination. But when there is an increase in visitors, the rivers would turn from a clear blue-green to a brown cloudy color filled with cans and waste. I started my own cleanups with my family and friends in our local park by picking up waste and debris after school. This started my love for volunteering and participating in the Great American Cleanup and other local cleanup efforts.

Another memorable cleanup effort is in my hometown, which has reinstated a “can ban” that bans cans and limits cooler sizes on the rivers. Cans will no longer litter the bottom of the rivers, making it safe to swim for visitors and increasing the overall stability and health of the rivers leading to the Gulf of Mexico.   

These cleanup efforts are important because over 50% of the world population lives along coasts, which provide a diversity of goods and services such as energy resources, jobs, aquaculture, shipping, tourism, science-related activities, and leisure activities. As interactions with lakes, rivers, and oceans increase, the amount of pollution each year continues to contribute to the estimated deaths of 9 million people globally a year.

Pollution is just one challenge facing our oceans and waterways. On June 9, 2018, organizations and communities will come together at the March for the Ocean in Washington, D.C., to raise awareness and promote solutions for many challenges: offshore oil drilling, plastic waste, threatened coastlines and more. I will be marching with Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a sponsor of the event, to advocate for ocean health and the climate stability needed for future generations.     

A look back

From the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, fossil fuels have been used for significant advancement and technology for human kind. But this advancement has also led to billions of tons of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, changing the stability level and health of earth’s major carbon sink and source. Oceans have warmed significantly since 1955, with sea level rising at a rate of 1.8 mm/year, which is due to the carbon dioxide being absorbed over time and altering oceans’ chemistry, increasing sea levels, increasing temperatures, causing ocean acidification, and altering wildlife ecosystems through food shortages and habitat loss.

Oceans cover 71% of the earth and hold 97% of the planet’s water. About 95% of the world’s ocean remains unexplored, but it is estimated that over 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are found in oceans. Many of the plastic found come from plastic bottles, bags, and commercial fishing gear. 80% of the marine litter comes from plastics, glass, metal, paper, cloth, rubber and wood, which result in habitat loss, wildlife entanglement, economic loss, vessel damage, debris ingestion, and easier transport of invasive species that can eradicate ecosystems.

What can we do?

Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup is an ongoing effort to bring communities and organizations together by combating the increasing pollution and waste found in today’s waterways. The daily work of Citizens’ Climate Lobby aims to slow or stop the rise of global temperatures to ensure stability and health for humans, ecosystems, local and global economies, national security, and our blue planet overall.

And on Saturday, June 9, more than 120 partner organizations will mobilize at the March for the Ocean to raise awareness and advocate for solutions. Volunteers can support the event by attending the March for the Ocean and becoming involved in cleanup efforts to establish continuous support for a sustainable and healthy future.  

Amanda Maxon is intern for Citizens’ Climate Lobby and an environmental management/biotechnology student living in Washington, D.C. She enjoys learning about different cultures and spreading awareness for climate-related issues.