Beachcombing and Ocean Conservation

By Mary T. McCarthy

Pacific Ocean DebrisFor those who love beachcombing, efforts to protect the ocean that is the very source of our treasure is often close to our hearts. Many of those who collect sea glass, shells, and other beach finds also carry a separate bag for picking up marine debris: plastic, metal, and other litter that can be harmful to sea life. There are many ocean conservation organizations dedicated to facing what can seem like the insurmountable problem of ocean pollution. But the problem is growing, not shrinking. The Ocean Conservation reports in The Problem of Ocean Trash that “each year an estimated 8 million metric tons, or 17 billion pounds, of plastic flows into the ocean,” and that “if we don’t change our lifestyles soon, there could be one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish in the ocean by 2025.”

According to, 269,000 tons of plastic float on the surface of the ocean, while some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea, 100,000 marine creatures a year die from plastic entanglement and approximately 1 million sea birds also die from plastic.

Boyon Slat (Photo Courtesy of The Ocean Cleanup)What is being done to help? Well, incredibly, 17-year-old Boyan Slat, while diving in Greece, found there was more plastic than fish around him, and soon invented a huge vacuum technology and company, The Ocean Cleanup, that is making an international difference. It’s entirely possible that our next generation has created a solution that may save the ocean for the ones that come later.

An excellent source of information about the state of affairs in ocean conservation is the nonprofit organization Plastic Oceans and the amazing film A Plastic Ocean, which was recently released on Netflix. It is a documentary that took 8 years to make and shows in great detail the effects of plastic pollution on marine life.

Sometimes, though it can be overwhelming to think about the extent of the problem, and not focus enough on what we can do about it. Just like the ocean is an ecosystem, we exist in an ecosystem where we as individuals live inside broader communities with varying-size abilities to make a difference when it comes to the health of our oceans.

Larger Ocean Organizations

Ocean Conservancy has long been known as an organization that informs the public through science, research, advocacy and education. They host International Coastal Cleanup day, you can pledge to “Skip the Straw” or learn more about them at

Oceana seeks to make our oceans more bio-diverse and abundant by winning policy victories in the countries that govern much of the world’s marine life. They offer an “adopt a marine animal” program, and provide sustainable seafood programs to discourage overfishing.

The Ocean Project advances ocean conservation in partnership with aquariums, zoos, museums, and other educational organizations around the world. Since 2002, The Ocean Project has also been the global leader for coordinating and growing World Oceans Day, collaborating with partner organizations to advance individual and group actions on the issues facing our ocean.

Needless to say these are only a fraction of the ocean organizations dedicated to ocean conservation.

Community Conservation Efforts

Often the most effective efforts happen at the local level. Community beaches can organize annual, monthly, or even weekly beach cleanups to keep dangerous litter away from coastal critters. Does your beach have one? Try calling local state, county or town beaches to see if an effort is underway that you can join. Beach cleanups aren’t just for Earth Day. You can easily start one on your own, get the word out, and be a part of a solution to a huge problem. Kids love to get involved. Girl and Boy Scout organizations earn community service participation credits, as do honors groups at local schools, so it can often be easy to involve youth in this way, in addition to local environmental youth efforts who would love a chance to help clean up a local beach.

Conservation Communities Using Online Presence

One organization called the #2minutebeachclean encourages social media sharing of photos through the hashtag #2minutebeachclean, which encourages people to spread the word about beach cleanups. Another popular organization is GRABBITS with its matching hashtag #justgrabbits; it has a community of dedicated individuals using the online world to spread their message and passionate efforts. Hashtags like #litterati, #plasticpollution, #take3forthesea, and others bring the beach cleanup community together and mobilize efforts to remove marine debris. Also, making trash pickup fun can make a difference. When beachcombers find small plastic army men for example, they take photos and share them on Instagram using the hashtags #flotsamarmy and #savingplasticryan, bringing together groups of the photos from around the world and adding a community and social overlay if not a treasure hunt aspect to the worldwide efforts of ocean conservation.

The Ocean Cleanup

Learn more about Mary McCarthy ›

This article appeared in the Glassing Magazine July 2017 issue.

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