Q: Are people who collect sea glass regularly more or less aware of beach pollution; and if so, do they do anything about it?
This was the question that eighth-grader Isabella Ortiz-Villarelle asked respondents in a survey she did last fall for her science class. Her hypothesis was that people who collect sea glass regularly see garbage on beaches, and that while many are focused on the beauty of sea glass, some will pick up other forms of waste and dispose of it.
Isabella asked a series of questions in an anonymous online survey that garnered more than 700 responses from beachcombers around the world. She wanted to find out exactly how aware beachcombers and sea glass collectors are about other types of trash that wash up on beaches, and whether or not they pick up other garbage while they look for glass.
Isabella focused only on those over the age of 12 who have been collecting for at least one year and are currently active beachcombers. Responses came from all over the world, showing how beachcombing is something that people do everywhere.
Isabella’s analysis showed that beachcombing did lead to more awareness of marine debris. “52% of those who participated stated that they are now more aware of beach pollution and the dangerous threat that carelessly dumped garbage poses to our beautiful oceans, than when they didn’t collect,” Isabella states. “This awareness has the potential to change behaviors that make ocean waters toxic and unsafe environments for the organisms living there and for humans who depend on the oceans for our livelihood.”
Eddie, Isabella’s classmate, agrees. “When beachcombing, a person can truly realize how much garbage is in our oceans—garbage that is killing aquatic creatures, like fish, turtles, and whales, who need our help,” Eddie says. “I admire the scientists who are working to protect our oceans, beaches, and coral reefs, but it is also the beachcombers who help conserve our natural landscape by picking up plastics and keeping them from going back into the ocean on the tides.”
Another classmate of Isabella’s, Gilly, says that beachcombing has many benefits. “Beachcombing combines care for the environment with an appreciation for natural beauty and health benefits,” says Gilly. “Not only are you clearing an area that is polluted daily; you’re also getting outside for fresh air and exercise.
Less than one percent of respondents said that they were aware of the state of pollution at their beaches but that their condition is not severe. “It is encouraging to see that number so low,” Isabella says. “The results of this section of the survey demonstrate that awareness among beachcombers is key to combatting pollution. Those who are most aware and who most often collect trash report that their beaches are in good condition. Those more aware about the state of our oceans and beaches help to keep them free of pollutants and are stopping the rise of this problem in their communities.”
Isabella’s classmate, Gabby, says, “Beachcombing benefits the environment and the collector because sea glass, though not natural to the environment, is remade by the ocean into beautiful gems. By picking it up, you clear the beaches and bring home a treasure.
Isabella’s conclusions? “The results showed that people who beachcomb do pick up waste and dispose of it properly, and that beachcombing helps people to be more aware of beach pollution. Using this information in the real world is critical to saving our oceans and what depends on them,” says Isabella. “Each person can have an impact.”
Pauline Bur, Isabella’s science teacher concurs. “I am very proud of Isabella’s concern for the growing problem of ocean and beach pollution and for how she is working to make her generation aware of the issue.”
Read more about Isabella's definition of sea glass and beachcombing.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine May/June 2020 issue.