On the small island of Okinawa, Japan there is an active community of climbers consisting of US service members and local Japanese nationals. A favorite climb/boulder hangout is Gushichan beach on the South end of the island. Not only is this beach home to hundreds of potential bouldering problems and even a few sport routes, it is one of many significant WWII historical sites on the island. This beach is subject to busloads of tourists, typhoons, and multiple ocean currents. Inevitably, it ends up trashed.
We met, one drizzly overcast day, to clean the place up. This follow up to the original post documents the success:
For the most part, it seems that everyone wants to do what is best for the environment. As many are beginning to learn, however, the best thing for the environment is rarely the most convenient. Example: You wake up late for an early morning meetup with your hiking friends. As you are running out the door your realize that your water bladder is empty, and the hose is full of mildew from your last outing. No worries- you can just pick up a couple bottles from the convenience store on your way. Even the best intentions can get mucked up with deadlines and convenience. I’m as guilty as anybody.
I have always noticed trash and waste in the outdoor playgrounds I frequent, and I generally try to snag as much as possible as I go. It wasn’t until a group of us concentrated our efforts on Gushi beach, though, that I realized the magnitude of trash that can occupy such a small area.
Our efforts were a great success, and everyone was motivated to drag as much junk off of the beach as possible. As promised, the local mayor of Yaese provided bags for the trash, and trucked everything away afterwards to be recycled or disposed of properly.
Here’s the stats up front (official guesstimate)…
Hours of cleaning: 4
Bags of trash: 45
Weight of trash removed from beach: 675 lbs.
Cigarette lighters: 113
Cigarette butts: countless
Tooth brushes: 146
Plastic bottle caps: 1,387
Sex toys: 1
Plastic bags: 249
Meters of nets, ropes, cables: 847
Milk crates/ buckets: 15
Glass bottles: 344
Aluminum cans: 856
Plastic bottles: 1,247
Plastic bottles and bags were overwhelmingly the most popular items found at Gushi. I would expect that the same is true for most areas around the world (i.e. oceanic “garbage patches”).
So is it really that big of a deal? Won’t all that junk just create more homes for the crabs and fish and stuff?
It’s a pretty big deal. And though this junk does sometimes create new animal habitats, it may be an animal that is not native to that area. This can easily upset the local ecology. Other impacts include the basic facts that the junk is an eyesore, and wildlife can become entangled nets or ingest or plastics. Humans can be affected in much the same way. I have run across more than one rusty hypodermic needle on beaches. And though the plastics will eventually break down until we cant see them, they never really go away.
The disheartening part is that typhoons, currents, and tourists will easily replace our efforts with more junk in a fairly brief period. Beach cleanups like this one really need to happen on a regular basis, so the plastic/sand ratio doesn’t get too out of whack. Next in our sights is the north end of Okinawa at Usa beach. Usa is a great camping, climbing, surfing, and diving location that suffers the same wrath as Gushi.
What can you do to help?
I challenge readers to, at the very least, get a hold of a reusable water container. If you do buy a disposable plastic bottle, try and reuse it a few times. Then, recycle that sucker.
Want to do more? Here are some simple reminders succinctly stated by the NOAA Marine Debris Program:
- Get involved! Participate in local cleanups in your area.
- Remember that the land and sea, no matter where you are, are connected.
- Reduce the amount of waste you produce.
- Reuse items whenever possible. Choose reusable items over disposable ones.
- Recycle as much as possible. Bottles, cans, cell phones, ink cartridges, and many other items can be recycled.
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For more reading on marine debris and it’s impact on our environment, check out: