Cutting Through a Sea of Excuses: Equipping Youth to Save the Ocean
When confronting the issue of ocean debris and pollution, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and find a quick excuse to focus on something else, anything else, other than the cold hard facts. It’s an understandable impulse because the problem isn’t pretty and it’s getting worse. The issue of plastic debris in the ocean is startling on its own. A United Nations study found that every square mile of the ocean has approximately 46,000 pieces of floating plastic in it. Research also showed that ten percent of the plastic produced every year worldwide ends up in the ocean. It isn’t just an eye sore; plastic debris is endangering marine ecosystems, costs cities and towns millions of tax dollars a year to clean up and is killing critical marine life. Toxins from plastic are also finding their way into our food system through seafood that has ingested the plastics floating in the ocean.
Removing plastic and other debris and pollutants from the waste streams that enter the ocean has been slow and hampered by a sea of excuses grounded in a reluctance to change-even if that change can mean a cleaner, healthier and more prosperous future for all of us. It’s simple: the ocean feeds us, regulates our climate and provides the air we breathe. We can’t live without the ocean and yet our actions or lack thereof have pushed this critical resource to the brink.
Fortunately, there is a large, very influential segment of our society that understands the urgency of the ocean’s plight and the need for action – youth. Their influence doesn’t come from political alliances, corporate affiliations or wealth. Now more than ever, youth have the power to create positive change by taking action. Technology, from social media platforms to mobile apps and digital resources emerging daily, gives young people everywhere the ability to share experiences and ideas and to put those ideas into action. Youth today have the power to influence buying habits, decisions impacting school and community, even issues of national policy.
In my role as co-founder and president of the environmental education nonprofit EarthEcho International, I meet young people every day who are fired up about the state of the ocean and they are full of ideas and ready to take action. In most cases, all they need is a little support and some basic resources to get started. This summer for example, EarthEcho is partnering with TerraCycle and One World One Ocean to host The Big CleanUP, a nationwide challenge that provides middle and high school students with resources to organize community cleanup teams to tackle plastic and other debris in our ocean environments, measure their impact and compete for prizes and money for their schools. My point is that it doesn’t take complex programs, huge budgets or years of research and planning to help young people in their quest to make the world a better place.
During the Gulf oil disaster in 2010, I was speaking to a group of elementary school students when I asked them, “Who is going to be responsible for cleaning up this oil spill?”. They all raised their hands and answered without hesitation “we will”. That said it all for me. Take time today to encourage and support young people in your family, schools and community in efforts to protect the ocean and the environment. They already know that our future depends on it.
** For more information about the Big CleanUP, visit http//:www.earthecho.org/bigcleanup. The Big CleanUP is part of the educational outreach surrounding the USA Pavilion at the 2012 World Expo in Yeosu, Korea, where the theme is “The Living Ocean and Coast.”