Are coastal clean-ups just band-aid solutions?

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[Image by Sergei Tokmakov from Pixabay]

Last Saturday, September 15, you probably woke up at 5:00 A.M to check your phone, wishing that activities will be cancelled due to Typhoon Ompong (international name Mangkhut).

You smile sleepily as your wish was granted, reading a chat saying that all outdoor activities, including the Coastal Cleanup, will be postponed. You look out the window and see only a slight drizzle.

You sigh in relief, because you will get the sleep you seem to badly need, with no threat to your safety.

Meanwhile, in the neighboring islands, the typhoon is being felt in its full fury.

The storm approached the country last September 15, which was also this year’s International Coastal Cleanup Day (ICCD). This event started 30 years ago in the US State of Texas, and is now being practiced in some 100 countries, including the Philippines.

Observed every second Saturday of September, student organizers of Ang Sandigan in partnership with the Silliman University Student Government Environment Committee decided to move the HINLO BABAY, a cleanup activity at Silliman Beach to September 22, hoping to gather more volunteers after the typhoon surely washed more garbage ashore.

Image by bilyjan from Pixabay

The HINLO BABAY is a volunteer effort to clean and protect the ocean, and aims to pick up and segregate wastes along Silliman Beach and raise public awareness.

“It’s important to [note that] coastal cleanups should not only be done once a year, or only during the ICCD. [This event] is only a reminder. Cleanups should be part of our daily life,” Joshua Concepcion, head of the event and External Projects Committee of Ang Sandigan, says.

“Sadly, [majority of] the public [do not integrate] cleanups into their lifestyle,” Concepcion adds.

However, there are a number of people who dismiss coastal cleanups as merely band-aid, one-shot solutions to a global problem. A problem as big as this requires a big response, and most people might have asked this once in their lifetime: what impact will a coastal cleanup have if it lasts only for a few hours?

To these people, Concepcion says: “Let them be. I would continue to do coastal cleanups to get people asking, and eventually use that opportunity to educate them on its importance.”

Not only will these activities lead to a cleaner and healthier coastline, but also an enhanced consciousness to motivate action.

After the cleanup, the waste will be audited by type. According to Concepcion, the usual kinds of trash found in the coasts of Dumaguete are plastics, glass bottles, cigarettes, wrappers, and clothes.

Almost all are forms of plastic debris, and they do not biodegrade. The very same qualities that make plastic such a convenience for us have made the planet inconvenient to live in. Too inconvenient, that some species of marine mammals have been rapidly declining, finding the waters unbearable to live in.

According to National Geographic, scientists have found microplastics in 114 aquatic species, and more than half of those end up on our dinner plates. There is also a reduction on global fish catch brought about by ocean pollution, threatening national food security due to loss of livelihoods in small-scale fishing communities.

“The cleanup won’t be perfect and the beach won’t be spotless. However, I assure a successful cleanup where [trash is collected and audited properly], and we’ll try to involve the community there,” Concepcion says.

The organizations involved will disseminate the results of the waste audit to the public, and are considering donating the recyclable trash to movements like Lumago designs where women from Candau-ay turn trash to jewelry that is to be sold.

Typhoon Ompong has left the Philippine Area of Responsibility, but there’s another storm brewing- with trash instead of raindrops, falling from our hands instead of clouds. It may be the greatest storm the world has ever seen, that the ocean itself will drown in it. Let us not sleep on this one, only to wake up and find out that there are barely any survivors. Maybe we can help postpone, or even cancel, this human-made disaster, one cleanup at a time.

(As published on The Weekly Sillimanian on September 24, 2018)

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