Written by Benjamin Simon

Three years ago I went on a trip to Belize with National Geographic. While we stayed at the Calabash Caye field station my group went out on the water every single day. We would snorkel and freedive for hours, some of us even scuba dove at points during the trip.

While we saw so countless picturesque landscapes and beautiful animals like sea turtles and manatees, there was one frame in my memory from that trip that sticks out above the rest. Diving down into the clear water and looking out onto the vast field of coral reef before me. All of the different shapes and textures. The incredible colors… the blues, the yellows, the greens, the reds. The fish swimming in and out of the crevasses the coral polyps formed. While this view is one of my favorites that I can recall, I can’t help but remember all of the debris and litter we would so commonly see on the seafloor and washed up on the beach’s shores. It broke my heart to see such a beautiful place being ruined by all of this man made garbage. Seeing this, a few of my group members and I put together a beach cleanup for about an hour and a half.

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Following our cleanup, we had put together a ridiculous amount of plastic and garbage just by walking up and down the beach picking anything we saw up. We sorted the plastics and grouped them by shape and color, I’ll include some pictures below.

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While we did a great job and were happy to make even the smallest of differences, the actual effect our cleanup had was incredibly minimal when thinking on a large scale. The next morning we woke up and saw practically the same thing we had seen the day before– plastic littering this beautiful beach. Obviously, beach cleanups are helpful no matter the scale, but true change must come from within our world’s policies.

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In my lifetime I hope to see international laws restricting the use of single use plastics like grocery bags or plastic packaged waters. I hope to see individuals and companies be seriously punished for dumping their plastic waste into our world’s oceans, killing sea creatures and degrading their ecosystems. I hope to see bans on plastic foodware like straws and utensils and instead opt for recyclable or compostable items. While much of our world may finally be on the right track, there is still a ton of work to be done to reduce the enormous amounts of plastic which end up in the oceans on a daily basis.

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