Let’s Clean Up the Beach

All One Ocean

Earth Island Reports

While convalescing from an illness on Hawaii’s Big Island back in 1998, Hallie Austen Iglehart noticed a marked absence of humpback whales along the Kona coast during their breeding and calving season, a time when the waters usually teem with whales. She began asking questions and researching the matter, and soon learned that noise pollution from the US Navy’s sonar exercises was disrupting the whales’ breeding process.

photo of a pelican in flightphoto Jerry KirkhartMillions of seabirds and marine animals die each year from eating or becoming
entangled in plastic debris.

Sonar blasts, she found out, disorient and often lead to the death of marine animals, especially whales and dolphins that rely on their acute and highly specialized hearing for communication and navigation. The information horrified Iglehart, who was then a renowned author and educator in women’s spirituality, and led to a complete change in her career trajectory.

Resolving to do whatever she could to protect the seas and marine life, in 2001 Iglehart cofounded Seaflow, an organization that until 2007 educated the public about the dangers of low-frequency active sonar. Seaflow was successful in changing policies on a state, national, and international level. As Iglehart sought to learn more about the plight of the oceans, she began spending more time in direct contact with the waters and taking regular walks along the shore. Soon a new issue captured her attention: trash.

On her walks along beaches, Iglehart noticed that the coastlines in both Hawaii and back home in California were littered with plastic trash – bags, bottles, parts of toys, and household items. She picked up all the garbage she could, knowing that each piece of trash disposed of properly was one less piece that would end up ingested by a bird or sea creature. And she began to learn more about the impacts of garbage in the oceans – namely, that about a million seabirds, turtles, whales, and dolphins die each year from ingesting or becoming entangled in human-made debris, and that 80 percent of the 1.4 billion pounds of trash that end up in the ocean annually comes from on shore.

Iglehart knew that to reduce the amount of debris entering the world’s oceans from beaches, she had to engage others in the effort. She developed an idea for a simple but effective innovation: The Beach Clean Up Station. The Station is a wooden box, installed at the entrance to a beach, bearing colorful signage and kids’ art that educates people about ocean trash and how they can play a role in addressing it. The Station holds repurposed, reusable bags that beachgoers can use to collect trash. After dumping the trash into a trashcan, the user can return the bag to the box. Iglehart envisions the Beach Clean Up Station concept proliferating so that someday every shoreline will offer citizens an opportunity to feel empowered to take action on behalf of the sea.

Learn more: www.alloneocean.org

In 2011, Iglehart founded All One Ocean, a project whose main focus is installing and stewarding Beach Clean Up Stations on public beaches. Since then, All One Ocean has installed eight stations on beaches in the San Francisco Bay Area and two in Hawaii, and has gained approval to install eight more. In just three years, the project has aided the removal of more than 1,100 pounds of trash from the California and Hawaii coastlines and delivered its inspiring educational presentation about ocean trash to many students in the San Francisco Bay Area. In 2013, the project led eight beach cleanups in Northern California and Hawaii during which volunteers collected thousands of pieces of trash, most of which are plastic.

Environmental educators report that, on the whole, a change in thinking does not result in a change in personal behavior. Rather, if you can alter behavior, it leads to changes in perception, which in turn results in lasting cultural change. Iglehart and All One Ocean seek to change people’s behavior around ocean trash in order to shift their perspectives from garbage being “other people’s problem,” toward a sense of collective responsibility for our oceans and our planet. All One Ocean works to inspire people to remove litter from the beach in a social, enjoyable, and educational way, so that they will begin to see the connection between ocean trash, ocean health, and their consumer choices.

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