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Unwelcome 'Guests'

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There is nothing like a beautiful day at the beach, meandering along the coast as the tide rushes playfuly to cool your toes, enjoying the sea grasses as the gulf breeze gently sways them to and fro or just hanging out on a towel with a some light reading while soaking up the sun. When people think of relaxation or paradise, this image springs almost involuntarily to the minds of many. Inclement weather aside (for a little rain must now and then fall) there are few things that can ruin this image, and a day out and about, such as the waste and pollution that affects ever more of our precious landscapes. It is the right of everone to bring their coolers and beverages and bask in the moment of peace afforded by places like our own PAG. With that right comes responsibility to cleaning up after one self that those next visitors, seeking the same lovely moments, might enjoy the pristine beauty as well.

What is on our shores and in our waters? Statistics state that more than 4.8 million metric tons of plastic waste gets dumped in the ocean every year. This is a mind boggline amount that may not even be the tip of the ice berg for a problem that becomes greater every year. These plastics include the now ubiquitous water bottle, straws, the completely environmentally unfriendly plastic grocery bag, nets and the truly horrific for obvious reasons, syringes. Much of the plastic is very small, so small that it is impossible to now tell in what form it originated. It seems almost incomprehensible that in today's day and age that we are still finding whole objects floating in the water and washing up on our and others shores.

Photograph by Christina Castillo, Smithsonian Institution

Another sight that you may find during your leisurely walk to seek sea shells and a nice tan is cigarettes and cigarette butts. These nasty little buggers take anywhere from 18 months to 10 years to degrade. They seem so very small but when they are many, and this is often the case, they can clutter the sand in the most unlovely of ways. No one wants to top their sand castle with a flag made from a someone elses dirty habit.

Does this mean that the couple enjoying a moment with their styrofoam cups on the blanket three spots over are litter bugs? Absolutely not. The fact is that much of the pollution we find on our beaches comes from other places, carried by the tides. There are several spots in the ocean where there are practically mountains of garbage, one is said to be as large as the state of Texas.

Photograph by Julie Featherston

What can you do? Although the issue is huge, it is important that we each do what we may to make certain that our marine environments and the beaches they lovingly brush against are as tidy as possible, for ourselves and future generations. The most obvious is to make certain you collect all of your trash after a day at the beach and dispose of it resonsibly, recycling if you are able. Equally important but not necessarily as obvious is making sure that you dispose of your garbage and recycling at home the same way.

Photograph by Lisa Charest

Other ways include participtating in one of the coastal clean up days organized by municipalities and other organizations as well as donating money to conservancy groups. This will get you out with a group to work on the issue with like minded people who also wish to leave this blue planet better than we found. Or just collect a little trash yourself while walk the beach. Not as pretty as shells but the effect can be just as satisfying for your soul.

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