Sustainability and COVID19, Part I: Combatting Plastic Pollution with Socially Distanced Beach Cleanups!

I’m sure all of you have heard that our oceans are in a crisis.

Humans have been drastically altering marine ecosystems through our overexploitation of marine resources (eg. over fishing), our contribution to rising global sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification (via the greenhouse gas effect from our dependencies on and combustion of fossil fuels) and the massive amounts of pollutants that we pour into the oceans every day (eg. plastics, oil spills, toxic waste, and more). In fact today I just stumbled upon a shocking and horrifying LATimes article on the 1950s dumping of DDT off the coast of San Pedro and near Catalina island, with the latter resulting in approximately 384 to 1,535 tons of DDT dumped on the seafloor. (Absolutely awful…. I know). Plastic pollution has also been getting a lot of press in recent years as it has been acknowledged that these plastics breakdown into micro and nano particles, likely lasting for long periods of time and transferring of plastic particles and chemicals up the food chain (including to us!). In fact this plastic pollution might even threaten ocean carbon sequestration (a process which is critical in decreasing the rate of global warming).

Fig. 1 from Shen et al. 2020: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2019.110712
“Carbon sequestration, transportation and cycling in the ocean. DOC, dissolved organic carbon; POC, particulate organic carbon; LPOC, labile dissolved organic carbon; RPOC, recalcitrant dissolved organic carbon. Microplastics can affect the development and reproduction of marine phytoplankton and zooplankton, thus affecting the ocean carbon sequestration”

Thus- it is critical that we all take steps to prevent more damage to our oceans and at the same time help the oceans recover. The first step is reducing our waste, which I will cover in a future blog, but another step that we can all do is to cleanup our parks, streets and beaches to prevent more plastic waste from entering our oceans. We can even do this during Covid19- while socially distanced outdoors and wearing our masks and gloves!

So this ‘Zoomester’ I decided to organize a Plastic Cleanup- with an in-person beach cleanup event at Playa Del Rey Beach in Los Angeles and a remote option for those individuals that were living afar. This took place last Saturday (10/17/20) and all in all it was a tremendous success with about 15 people that participated! This included faculty, staff, graduate students and undergraduates, including four undergraduates from my Environmental Studies class that I had never met in person prior to this day (I get so excited to meet people in real life now.. ha). In the below photo are two students (and roommates) from USC posing behind some of the trash that they and several others collected. Unfortunately I forgot to ask everyone to stack their trash, so I wasn’t able to document all of it.

Two USC students, Emilia Weske and Raquel Lazaro, posing in front of some of the trash they helped clear off the beach in Los Angeles, CA! ps. They live together.. hence the close proximity!

The fabulously talented photographer: Maurice Roper (USC) also came and documented the whole event! Below I have included a gallery showcasing some of the photos he took!

In addition to Maurice Roper documenting the event, I was very fortunate to have the wonderful support of USC’s Environmental Studies Program and the Wrigley Institute. I want to give a special shoutout to Dr. Jill Sohm (Director of the Environmental Studies Program) and Dr. Ann Close (Wrigley Institute, Associate Director) for their help. Lastly, I was able to use hands-free online waiver forms with the help of Kate Tucker at Resmark Systems with “WaiverSign” (I highly recommend them for your hands-free events!).

I truly felt like this event was impactful. Aside from all of the trash that we cleaned off the beach (the majority of which was plastic), there were many people that watched us and thanked us, and even some that joined us! So I have hope that this event spread awareness as to the little things that WE CAN ALL DO to help our oceans and environment!

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