On a degas day (non diving day) at Coral Cay Conservation in the Philippines in Southern Leyte, I went for a walk on the beach. Wanting to make my walk constructive, I took a bag to collect rubbish as I went. With no real plan in mind I set off, iPod blaring and enjoying the sunset, I wandered.
A plastic bottle here, ten plastic bags there it hit me just how much trash was on this tiny beach. My bag got fuller and I noticed themes in what I was collecting, lighters, plastic bags, plastic coke and Sprite bottles, crisp packets, so many things and straws, so many straws but the theme was plastic.
The beach was empty, no one was about and then literally out of no where appear three local kids, small faces popped out of bushes and stared at me with interest. No words, no nerves, they sprung out armed with handfuls of rubbish and walked right over to me and put it all in my rubbish bag. I was totally gob smacked. It didn’t end there. All three of them walked ahead of me collecting rubbish, bringing it back and putting it in the bag, still no words just giggles and this went on for 45 minutes.
They combed the beach with great focus and it really was quite inspiring. The youngest boy picked up a long length of plastic tubing and dragged it along, shaking his head. I thought to myself if this boy who couldn’t have been older than 6 can see the issue then the rest of us really have no excuse.
A full bag of litter later we walked back to the start of the beach. I was still overwhelmed at the whole experience and really wanted to thank them. All I had was some chocolate in my room so I ran back to get it to give them as a thank you. They smiled, popped the wrappers in the bin bag and disappeared.
Sometimes things can happen that really surprise you and this was one of those things. The un silent understanding between us, regardless of their age, that rubbish all over the beach was a bad thing was a common ground. We didnt need to have lots to say to each other and they didn’t need to help, but they did.
People do care about their environment and want to make it better. These kids see divers in and out of the water most days and they know that they live somewhere special, right in front of a marine protected area site in a magnificent part of the World, a paradise.
Talking to Coral Cay a little more I learned about the work they do with young people in the local community. Inviting them on base for activities and teaching them about their surroundings and the Ocean environment on their doorstep, the link became clear. Having local people onboard with any project is an absolute must, more than that, it’s vital for success and for ongoing good environmental behaviours.
I suppose the biggest thing that I realised about this experience was that it doesn’t really take much effort or much time to do something small that really makes a difference. You can collect little bits of rubbish here and there, wherever you are and maybe when someone else sees you doing it they will give it a go too. We all know the problems with plastic and trash in the sea, it’s nothing new but we are running out of time and need actions rather than words more than ever.
Setting an example is a really powerful tool and also demonstrates that you don’t have to be some big Eco warrior type or know tons about conservation to make a difference, you can just be a kid on a beach.
Protect what you love guys and remember that every little bit helps. Find out where a local beach clean is happening in your area or just go for a walk where you live with a bag 🙂