5 Questions with International Coastal Cleanup Coordinator Hilberto Riverol of Belize

Hilberto Riverol of The Scout Association of Belize has coordinated the International Coastal Cleanup for his country over the past 20 years, teaching scouts how they can help keep the ocean clean and healthy. Credit: John Carrillo.

Since 1911,  The Scout Association of Belize has taught children to protect and care for the environment on a daily basis. As it happens, their small Central American country on the Caribbean is a rugged place of great natural beauty. Coastal waters host extraordinary marine life, especially along the world’s second largest barrier reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

So back in 1992 when Hilberto Riverol, national scout executive with the association, heard that the Ramada Hotel in Belize City was gathering volunteers for the country’s first International Coastal Cleanup, he signed up.  Some 600 participants including the scouts removed more than three tons of trash from approximately 18 miles of the coast.

The next year—and every year since—the association has embraced the role of organizing the event under Hilberto’s devoted leadership as Belize coordinator. We asked him to share his perspective on 20 years of Cleanup events.

1. What drew the Scout Association of Belize to participate in the Cleanup?

Since our founding, scouts have made a significant contribution to environmental causes.

Scouts learn firsthand what’s trashing the ocean when they record everything they find during the International Coastal Cleanup. Credit: Jose Riverol.

Participating in the Cleanup, these boys and girls have learned that there are many problems affecting marine life. Gathering data makes scouts even more aware of the importance of keeping our shoreline clean. They see the danger trash causes when carelessly disposed of in our ocean.

2. What changes and growth have you seen over 20 years?

From a small group of volunteers back in 1990, the Cleanup in Belize has grown over the years. Support from the business community has been consistent. The donation of garbage bags, gloves, rakes, promotional material and radio and television advertisements goes a long way and is very important in helping to cover the overall cost of organizing and holding the event.

The volunteers, who come from all walks of life, seem to be more aware of problems posed by marine debris; as a result, there is a stronger desire to get involved in the Cleanup. (There has also been an increase in recycling in Belize, particularly plastic, paper and glass bottles).

Now we have the participation of many youth and environmental groups, as well as secondary school students. In fact, one secondary school in Belize City makes it mandatory that the entire school of 400+ students must participate each year. The data they collect form part of their school curriculum.

3. Do you have a favorite story from the Cleanup?

No, because each year of organizing and participating in the Cleanup is a different experience. We find everything from money and condoms to dead fish and sea creatures trapped in nets. The latter is what motivates the hundreds of volunteers to come out year after year.

4. What inspires you to support the Cleanup year after year?

If you can make a change, no matter how small it may be, to protect marine life and have cleaner beaches for everyone to enjoy, this is the motive to keep the International Coastal Cleanup alive for years to come.

My favorite quote is from the founder of the scout movement, Lord Baden-Powell:

“Most of us who have been sowing the seed will not, in the nature of things, be here to see the harvest; but we may well feel thankful, indeed jubilant, that our crop is already so well advanced…”

5. What has impressed you most about the International Coastal Cleanup experience?

I believe that the International Coastal Cleanup is of great value to me—and to the thousands of volunteers who have participated over the years—because it demonstrates what can be accomplished by giving just a few hours one day each year.

It gives us all the opportunity to take back from our environment and nature what has been carelessly put there. And it fills us all with pride knowing that we indeed care for and look after nature, particularly marine life and our ocean. The satisfaction of knowing that so many people care for our ocean is engraved deeply in my heart.

Did you participate in a Cleanup event today? Share your stories in the comments section! And remember, it’s never too late to head outside and clean up trash in your neighborhood!

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