One of the major environmental issues of our generation is waste, plastic pollution. These days, it is incredibly hard to find a beach empty of any kinds of plastic bottles, or fish lines and nets. Our impact is clearly visible, the ocean currents bring waste together in what we now call plastic continents, for how big these clusters are. The impacts of this are the accumulation of microplastics in the waters, and in our own foods; you might also have seen one of those viral videos of turtles entangled in fishnets or another plastic product. Biodiversity on Earth is severely affected. While all of this remains a challenging issue, one way to act on our individual level as students can be to take part in clean-ups.
You might have seen people collecting litter on the beach or heard about it on social media. But what exactly are Clean walks and Beach Cleans ? If you are concerned about your carbon footprint and the overall influence of your consumption and of the one of others on the environment, going to clean-ups should be on your to-do list. The concept is to regroup and help take up the litter and direct it to the sorting litter system to be taken care of and properly discarded. You might be asking yourself if it is even worth it. This issue should be treated at the source, we shouldn’t have to clean up this trash in the first place.
However, it is actually more than just getting your hands dirty and putting in the effort. These reunions are an amazing way to witness environmental issues first hand. Filling trash bag after trash bag is a reality check that will leave everyone questioning about issues of sustainability.
Seeing the trash collected might convince people to try and reduce their waste, and actually helping clea- up is a great way to be involved locally, helping the environment and biodiversity here in Galway. What is really important about collecting litter, no matter the amount collected, is raising awareness on plastic pollution and learning about the ocean and life in the sea.
For beach cleans like the ones organised by the Galway Aquarium Atlantaquaria, it is an amazing mean to educate people. Their method is to clean, and record traces of biodiversity by collecting shark egg pockets (or Mermaid’s purses) or respectfully inspecting the rock pools. You will be accompanied by an expert, and will surely learn much about all the amazing life there is right there on Irish coasts. This can lead you to help as a citizen scientist and recording your own sightings to the National Biodiversity Data centre.
The Aquarium organises these with the help of Clean Coasts, an organisation that protects beaches and marine life. They offer a free kit to perform a 2 min beach clean that can be useful if you are not able to take part in the group ones. Other NGOs, like Curi Ocean, organise a meetup every month in collaboration with the marine society here in NUI Galway. The Student Society also organises monthly walks, and it’s always a great way to meet others in a shared effort. I encourage you to follow all of these on social media to be informed of the next clean-up.
On a personal level, this may help with eco-anxiety by taking a good action, and meeting with such a community is also a reward in itself.