On September 27th, 2019, our local group of marine science students living in the Marshall Islands went on a clean up trip at an outer island called Gehh. We picked up trash from only about an eleventh of the island. That’s one spot, on one island, in one atoll, in the entire Pacific Ocean. Trash was gathered from a stretch of beach about 50 meters long. From this tiny portion of the island, we collected over 1,300 bottles, 500 shoes, 90 lighters, and so much more. I had expected to feel a sense of accomplishment when we were done. This was not the case. As we rode away, our boats brimming with the 47 bags of trash we had collected, you could barely tell anyone had cleaned up the beach. Three hours and 3,749 pieces of trash later, the beach was still a littered mess of human junk.
Because plastic is such a useful material, our society has become dependent on it. It was created to be light, cheap to produce, and virtually indestructible. It was designed to make our lives easier and more convenient, and it has, but at the expense of the environment around us.
So what’s next? For our marine science class, it means analyzing the data we collected and preparing for future cleanups. It means spreading awareness about this ongoing problem and educating people on how to improve our situation. Researching the problem is only half the battle. Learning about what’s happening enables us to take action in the best way possible to solve the problem.