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Last week, our Service Learning coordinator, Anna, gave us a presentation about marine litter, where we learned about the variety, magnitude, and negative consequences of marine litter. In order to address this issue, one aspect of our program is weekly beach cleans. This week, Allen and I lead our third beach clean as our small leadership project, aiming to make our beach clean more fun, efficient and accurate. First, participants got gloves, a partner, and a durable rice bag for trash. After struggling to carry back our heavy bag the week prior, we cut slits in the sides of the bags to serve as handles.

We instructed everyone to walk to the left side of the beach, where we noticed a lot of trash built up along a small stream connecting the ocean and a lagoon. During high tide, big waves funnel trash from the ocean, up the stream and into the lagoon and surrounding beach. Amongst washed-up branches and coral lay flip flops, fishing line, and a Styrofoam. We choose to focus on this area so that participants would see how much trash can accumulate in such a small area and how difficult it is to remove it all. Everyone got to work, collecting trash of all shapes, sizes, materials and origins. It took less than 30 minutes for everyone to fill their bags, and there was still a lot more trash to be picked up.

Once back, we sorted and surveyed the litter. People with phones were assigned a type of litter to count using the Clean Swell app, while the others sorted. Overall this set up worked well, especially at the start. However, towards the end, there were a lot of small bits of trash, making it more tedious to sort and count. We tried to guestimate the litter as we poured the remains into the general trash. It would have been useful if we were able to input numbers of each trash item into the app, however the interface only allowed us to increase the count by tapping on individual icons one at a time.

Although it is not possible to pick up all the litter on the beach, it is worthwhile to do beach cleans because it lets us know what the common litter items are, so they can be targeted in awareness and policy campaigns. Furthermore, it helps make our beaches cleaner, even if just by a little. I believe marine litter is a big problem, and am interested in how it can be addressed on both large and small scales. For example, I really love the concept of a new technology that uses the rotation of ocean gyres to passively funnel and collect trash from the ocean. As an lover of the environment and an engineer, I am interested in now we can design devices to help solve environmental issues, like marine litter.