“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito in the room” – the Dalai Lama
Among the countless inspirations with which the Dalai Lama has enriched the world, this quote lives on my desk as a reminder of the impact that we can have as individuals. It’s easy to downplay how much power we have as individuals to make real change. But whether we clean up a beach, upgrade our everyday choices, or just share our personal experiences, we can all “be the mosquito in the room,” drawing attention to the problem and our efforts to resolve it.
Marine debris is a constantly evolving problem. In addition to its sheer magnitude (an estimated 8MMT of plastics enter the ocean annually), there are a number of factors that we are still trying to understand. What are the respective marine debris contributions and impacts from microplastics, shedding textiles, fishing gear, tire abrasion, consumer packaging, natural disasters, etc.? What are the most efficient and effective ways to address these issues? Where are the greatest threats or opportunities? And perhaps most pressing, what can I, as an individual, do to have an impact?
While we don’t have the answers to all of these questions, never before has public awareness of this issue been so high. It is important to be empowered and to act on this awareness. Not everyone thinks about ocean health all day (which is probably for the best as it can get a bit scary) but we all make daily decisions that have implications for the health of our ocean—from the products we buy, to how and where we dispose our trash, to how we talk with our families and communities about what it would mean to have a trash-free ocean. To address marine debris, of course, we need to consider the broader system dynamics and externalities that have contributed to the problems we face—these are the types of efforts that Ocean Conservancy is undertaking through our Trash Free Seas Program. When people ask me what they can do, I suggest that they start with things that they have direct control over. If we want to get more specific, I direct them to the 30+ years of data from the International Coastal Cleanup (ICC). We can all make simple changes in our daily lives to keep the most commonly found items collected during the ICC off of our beaches and out of our waterways.
What is one thing that can be done today to make sure that you are not contributing to the problem that we are seeing on beaches around the world?
Recently, I was speaking with someone about a fishing trip they took with their grandchildren off the coast of Georgia. Shortly after dropping their lines, they noticed a floating item approaching. As the distance closed, their hopes of an enjoyable day on the water were quickly flushed away as a toilet seat came into focus.
This could have come from any number of sources, particularly in light of the recent coastal communities that have been devastated by severe weather events. For this individual, this was the moment they realized that this is not a problem that is “over there,” but rather something we are all impacted by. It was their inspiration to do something—anything —to address the marine debris issue and ultimately, inspired them to reach out to Ocean Conservancy to find out how they could contribute through responsible recreational boating (Good Mate) and details about participation in the ICC.
It is easy to become overwhelmed by the dizzying possibilities of where to start or what to do. During these times, I encourage you to “become the mosquito.” Be persistent about taking action, no matter how small it might seem. Because every action makes a difference, and the health of the ocean and our future depends on it.
Download the Clean Swell app before you hit the beach and be a part of the solution anytime, anywhere.