Life can be beachy if we take care of our waterways. Liberty County is a coastal county and aren’t we lucky for that? We also have one of the prettiest barrier islands on the Georgia Coast — St Catherines.
It will only be pretty, however, as long as we protect its white sandy beaches and the ocean and the waters that flow around it.
Keep Liberty Beautiful has been sponsoring volunteer beach sweeps with goodhearted local boaters since 2007 to clean up some of the public beaches on St. Catherines. It is hard to believe that this somewhat isolated beach would have much trash until you realize the powerful consequences of marine debris and lazy beach-goers. Litter is a sad problem whether it is along a road or in a park, but it is an incredibly sad problem when it affects our waters.
I like to drink water — clean water. I bet you do, too. And I like to go to clean beaches with a clean ocean lapping at my feet. I know many of you do, too.
To have clean water and unpolluted beaches, we have to fight the damaging effects of marine debris. How does marine debris occur? Unfortunately, our poor lifestyle choices put our waterways and the creatures that depend on them for their habitats in imminent danger.
Our oceans are like the bedroom of a teenager left to his own devices with no supervision. They are filled with items that do not belong there and are totally out of place. Huge amounts of consumer plastics, metals, rubber, paper, textiles, derelict fishing gear and even vessels, and other lost or discarded items enter the marine environment every day. This chaos is making marine debris one of the most widespread pollution problems facing the world’s ocean and waterways.
Marine debris is defined as any persistent solid material that is manufactured or processed and directly or indirectly, intentionally or unintentionally, disposed of or abandoned into a marine environment, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. All parts of the world are experiencing the impact of marine debris. Wildlife entanglement and ingestion, economic costs and habitat damage are just some impacts of marine debris. Ultimately, marine debris is even a threat to human health.
First, marine debris is an eyesore along a coast. It mars the beauty of the beaches and I am sure creates an economic cost from the loss of tourism dollars. Would you want to swim at a beach littered in trash?
Maine debris, especially large, heavy pieces, can harm habitats, like coral reefs, that are the basis for marine ecosystems. One of the saddest impacts from marine debris is wildlife entanglement. Derelict nets, ropes, fishing line, or other fishing gear as well as string, six-pack rings, and other types of marine debris can be death traps for many forms of marine life. Turtles, fish and even birds can get tangled in these items leading to injury, suffocation, starvation, and even death.
Many animals can also mistake debris for food which can lead to internal injury and intestinal blockage, and even death.
No matter who you are in Liberty County, water issues should be important to you. These are issues that all of us need to confront — young and old. Over 40 percent of our county is wet: marshes, wetlands, ponds, creeks and rivers. And, of course, we are coastal so we need to protect the ocean from the debris ending up in these wet areas in our county, because much of marine debris comes from poor choices we make on land. So, whether you are a fisherman, an avid boater, a beach-goer or just someone who likes clean water, take a careful look at the choices you make that could cause marine debris. We can all do these things:
Keep streets, sidewalks, parking lots and storm drains free of trash. They can empty into our waterways and oceans.
At the beach, park, playground and even at work or in town, dispose of all trash in the proper receptacles or take your trash home with you. Pick up any debris you see while out.
Recycle as many items as possible. If they are recycled, less items will end up as litter or debris.
Boaters, fishermen, and beachgoers need to remember to:
Bring all of your trash back to shore for proper disposal in trash cans or recycling bins, including all pieces of fishing line and other fishing gear.
Recycling any used fishing line.
Think about the materials and packaging you might be taking to the beach or for a day on the water. Choose reusable items and use less single use, disposable ones.
Never dump trash, etc., in the water and report any illegal dumping that you observe.
If you are a marina operator, participate in the Clean Marina program. Provide clearly labeled and adequately sized garbage and recycling bins for your staff and customers. Keep trash cans, dumpsters and recycling bins from overflowing by emptying them regularly. Make sure they are covered, secured and can’t be opened by strong winds or animals.
The only way to make sure we have clean waterways is to actively prevent items from ending up as marine debris whether we are on land or water. The other important way that all of us can fight marine debris is to participate in area cleanups around our community or a campus cleanup if you are a student and at cleanups, like our Beach Sweep on Sept. 9 at St. Catherines Island. Contact us at Keep Liberty Beautiful at 880 4888 or firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved today.