I can vividly remember the first time I visited my aunt’s beach house on Playa Tivives, Costa Rica about five years ago. This almost untouched beach town nestled away on the Pacific Coast of the Puntarenas province is a surfer’s paradise with its strong currents, nice swell, and large waves. Playa Tivives is under the protection of the government, so it is largely underdeveloped making it a perfect getaway for a relaxing beach vacation. The beach joins with the Jesus Maria River, which then flows into the Pacific Ocean, making swimming and surfing quite risky due to the crocodiles that frequent the salty waters at the river mouth. Going for a run one morning with my sister, we spotted a large crocodile basking in the sun right where the water hits the sand. As we kept running trying not to think of the colossal reptile not too far from us, we eventually came upon the area where the river meets the ocean. To my surprise with such little development and tourism here, there was a mountain of garbage littered all along the coast. The scene appeared to me as a small landfill feeding right into the Pacific Ocean. If this can be seen in small less developed beach towns, it makes you think about how other popular touristic beaches might look like.
While taking the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) on Marine Litter through the Open University of the Netherlands and the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) I was able to pick up a few key points on what we can do to curb the litter. First of all we need to cut it at the source and reduce the amount of marine litter we use in our everyday lives. When you order a drink ask the waiter to skip the straw, when you go to the grocery store bring your own reusable bags, and do yourself a favor and buy a reusable water bottle- it’s not only healthier for you AND the environment but will also save you a lot of money in the long run. We need to improve and enforce legislation on marine debris. Creating opportunities to develop collection teams to reuse and recover materials from the beach and use them to create energy is another brilliant way of diverting our waste. Improve education at schools, in the industries, stakeholders, the citizens, and education of the authorities is one of the most important tools we can use to solve our marine pollution. If we have thousands of people without the education on the importance of this issue, why should they care to change their habits?
Solving the problem of marine litter also requires the attention of governments. We need to get governments involved in facilitating local actions, introduce policies, laws such as plastic bag bans, improve waste management systems, encourage businesses to produce in more environmentally responsible ways, and more support for scientific research that improves our understanding of the problem and that aims at developing sustainable solutions.
Overall, one of the most important actions you can take as an individual is to make greener choices. We need to tackle the problem of marine litter at the source and aim at reduction and successful management of the problem if we want to start cleaning up our coastal areas.