Cleaning beaches can be so damn rewarding. I only wish I could get paid for it. I would do it as a near on full time job. Two examples. The first, Christmas time on a beach in Eastern Turkey 2001. The second, many days on a beach in Eastern Crete, Greece, 2009.
I had arrived on a quiet Turkish beach close to the Syrian border after having hitch hiked there from Geneva, Switzerland. It had taken me three months, (another story). There was one very sparse hotel to rent a bed in. I was the only guest. It was Christmas. Fortunately the owner was great. He spoke good English and we shared quite a few laughs together. He served me a superb Christmas day dinner, totally Turkish and totally tasty. Hummus, aubergines, plenty of oil, spices, onions, all mopped up with gigantic pieces of pita bread.
The hotel was empty, cold and lonely. The beach was right across the dusty, barely visible sea road. Several tiny shops lined the invisible road. They sold the essentials including vegetables/salt/sugar/tea etc. They were run by kindly folk who I got to sort of know over the coming few days.
I must have stayed 4 or 5 days here, and on every one of those days I spent my time collecting rubbish off the beach. It was appalling. It was a very long beach and all you could see, apart from the obvious patches of sand were every colour of plastic bag.
How can you visit a beach and enjoy it when it’s covered in plastic? I just got on with it. Pick up a big intact bag and start filling it with smaller ones. Find a place to stack it when full, make sure it won‘t blow away, find next big sack, fill that one, stack it, and so on. I find it sort of addictive. It’s a good idea to pick out the obvious colours first. Let’s say orange. Take a picture with your camera, pick up all orange trash, take another picture. Look at the difference-result.
The shopkeepers who had very little else to do all day kept looking at me, pointing to their mates, and quite often had a giggle.
After several days of this, not 8 hours a day I admit, the beach looked like it had been put through a huge sieve. Wish I had a before and after picture. The shopkeepers complained because they paid a hefty maintenance fee to have the beaches kept clean-but they weren’t. The hotel owner thought I was nuts. The hotel owner’s brother was the mayor of this little area and he came round one night. He was very defensive even though I wasn’t judging the situation. I simply asked if he could perhaps remove the 35 large bagfuls of plastic…that I had carefully lined up one after the other in a long row along the invisible beach road. He guffawed a bit not promising anything at all. However, I felt I had done a good job. I could walk freely on the beach without having to stoop down every 2 or 3 yards to pick up crap.
I left ‘deserted beach town’ a few days later. Thirty five bags stood side by side. I said goodbye to each one of them, sorry that I could not do more to recycle. Oh well, and then in the distance coming towards me I saw a tractor and trailer.
I wonder I thought, and as it passed me it stopped by my black standing stones. I continued my walk, looked over my shoulder and ever so grudgingly a man was apathetically loading each one into the trailer-result. Sadly they probably went into land fill, but it was a start, wasn’t it?
Second episode was during a few years spent in Crete, Greece. Many of the beaches are full of marine litter and there’s one particular beach I know of that acts as a funnel to what seemed to be every bit of plastic that gets missed by the Western half of Crete. You can stand on the road maybe 5 meters above sea level and literally see the plastic arrive with every incoming wave. It is sickening to watch…if that sort of thing sickens you. I spent many an hour picking up plastic here. Great big builders sacks would get washed up and you could fill these up with so much rubbish that it was not possible to move them on your own-so you had to put them well away from the sea front to start with so they wouldn’t get washed away in a heavy swell.
I approached the local council to ask if they would actually give me a job. They were appreciative of the help, alarmed at some of the photos I showed them but unfortunately there were no funds for such enterprising work. They said they could provide me with plenty of bags to collect the rubbish in…but I said ‘that’s ok, ‘cos I can get those off the beach’. They sort of smiled-guiltily.
So again, I just got on with it. I sort of made it my pledge to make a huge difference to this beach-and I did. It’s a shame because this beach is on one of the main roads to some of the most popular tourist beaches here. What a bad impression it makes. What a dreadful site it is. I sent out a prayer. I asked God if he could find me a house to live in on the beach. Seeing as there were only a handful it looked quite an impossibility. I collected a lot of trash and the local council kindly, and willingly, came along with a bulldozer…and a tractor and trailer and took the whole lot away-twice. Again to land fill I am afraid but it got it off the beach and out of the marine cycle.
Talking to my Greek friend close to my leaving for the UK I mentioned that I would have liked to have found a place to live on the beach and spend more time cleaning…so only my mate’s cousin ‘owned’ one of the houses there! And although the house has not been lived in for 15 years, several of the ceilings are caving in, there is no electric and no running water, I have some of my things there, rent free, waiting on my return and sort of promise that I would do a huge amount to try and rectify the horrendous marine litter problem we have in our World. I want to go back…but I gotta find a way of getting paid for it. Writing/filming/Artwork…
We have got to find a way of getting rid of that monstrous Human creation they have named “The Great Pacific Garbage Patch”. Square kilometre by square kilometre of seething multicoloured plastic waste.
The willingness, that’s what we need.
How do I take part in your litter picking activities ?