Each year sea turtles migrate hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles in search of food. The leatherback turtle crosses the entire Pacific ocean, reinforcing a pattern that the species has evolved over hundreds and hundreds of years.
Human beings are just starting to form such habits. Last Saturday was the 28th time that Californians gathered together for the annual Coastal Cleanup Day. Together, more than 57,400 volunteers at 850 sites in 55 different counties collected 320 tons of debris and removed it from the state’s waterways. People in 110 countries participated in similar activities. In San Francisco, Recology hauled away debris that included paper, glass, bottle caps, nails, concrete, and cigarette butts. Fifty percent of it was recycled. Much of the debris is pollution left behind by beachgoers.
In Oregon, folks volunteered to catch the residual debris that is beginning to come ashore from the 2011 tsunami that devastated parts of Japan. Some estimates of the volume of debris that is floating across the ocean and bound for the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada are as high as 1.5 million tons. The material includes parts of abandoned fishing boats, buoys, piers and household items, as well as glass, bottles, Styrofoam and the like.
Organized by the Ocean Conservancy, Coastal Cleanup Days are meant to restore our coastlines to their natural state and beauty. Perhaps in 100 years, like the leatherback turtle, our annual trek to the shore will have become more than just a habit. Perhaps by then, protecting the planet will have become a human instinct.