Importance of reef and beach cleans

Group of students reef cleaning
Wisconsin Oshkosh participating in a reef clean in January 2019

Since taking over the running of the marine station, myself and James have been encouraging our study abroad groups to participate in a reef clean right here on Tobacco Caye’s reef crest. Like many other people we were subliminally aware that ocean plastic was an issue but after watching Planet Earth 2 which showed the devastating impact that plastic and other rubbish had on marine creatures, we decided to take action. We were living in the UK, more precisely Bristol which has many waterways and estuaries surrounding the city. We signed up with the Marine Conservation Society to participate in beach cleans around the Bristol area. Doing these cleans was eye opening and very saddening. The amount of plastic, metals, glass and other materials that we found was astounding.

Before coming to Belize we hoped that this issue wasn’t affecting the tiny island which would become our home but knew that no where, not even paradise was immune from this devastating impact.

The island of Tobacco Caye

Sadly we weren’t wrong, Tobacco Caye is being affected by ocean plastic. Around the island items wash up but as most of the island is owned by lodges, staff start early in the morning to collect the unsightly rubbish. The problem is much more predominant and noticeable on Tobacco Caye’s reef crest. The marine station is the only organisation on Tobacco Caye with permission to go onto the crest and collect rubbish, meaning that the thousands of tourists who pass through the island never see the sad reality which is happening here.

As the only organisation allowed on the reef crest and conduct beach cleans, we feel a sense of duty to carry out this activity. It is also fuelled by our passion to help the environment that we now live in. The study abroad groups who we have mentioned the clean to have been more than willing to participate.

Our first group to do the reef clean was Wisconsin Oshkosh. We made it an optional activity and only 6 out of the 18 students plus the 2 leaders participated. When we arrived on the reef crest the students were horrified at the amount and variety of plastics and other rubbish they found. The group started to South end of the crest, close to the mangroves and quickly filled up bags of rubbish. They all kept saying how much more rubbish they could collect with more of the group and that they all wanted to do another reef clean that afternoon. It was really inspiring to see the student’s passion for this issue and their desire to be involved with change. Once back at the island they exchanged stories of their experience and much of the rest of the group were inspired to join them that afternoon in another beach clean. With more students and the dedicated leaders the group cleared a 20m squared area of the crest cleaned removed 46.4kg of rubbish in just 2 hours!

Picking up rubbish
Rubbish found on a reef clean

We will continue to offer reef cleans to students in the hope that the experience stays with them and inspires them to make small changes at home. Whether that is signing up for beach/waterway cleans at home, switching from plastic bottles to a reusable bottles or picking up litter regularly.