More than 50 people gathered in Jenner in perfect spring sunshine to clean up the Russian River.
Our group split up on several missions. Some went upstream to build a fence and to maintain trails; some paddled the lower estuary picking up litter along the shores. I paddled to the mouth of the river to pick litter up from North Jenner’s Ocean Beach. This beach gets regular visits from litter-getters. For that reason, it is relatively free of obvious trash like beer bottles, plastic water bottles, tennis balls, propane canisters, and the like.
But as Cea Higgins of Surfrider Foundation pointed out in her introductory talk, little pieces of plastic are equally important to pick up.
Inedible/indigestable plastic pieces eaten by birds and fish can accumulate in digestive systems and kill them. Remember, birds and fish don’t have fingers to extract non-food things out of their mouths. (How many times have you plucked a bit of plastic wrapper that accidentally got into your mouth? How many more times if you had no fingers to unwrap your food in the first place?)
It’s important to know that about 60% of all seabirds studied by IFL Science have plastic in their gut. According to a report published in the National Academy of Sciences, plastic ingested by sea life is most critical in the seas south of Australia where plastics and pelagic birds intermingle.
It is definitely satisfying to pull big and heavy things out of the river, as with yesterday’s girl’s ride-on motorized Jeep. But it equally important to comb beaches for small bits of plastic that might otherwise be swallowed by an albatross, gull, tern, fish or other wild creature of the ocean environment.
Little bits of styrofoam are easy to find just about everywhere along the beach. In no time your collection pail will collect more than a dozen bits of food-mimicking plastic bits to go with the occasional tennis ball and plastic spice jar.
There were lots of great people and it was a whole lot of fun.
If you’ve never taken part in an activity like this, consider adding it to your to-do list.