Distance should never be an issue when the cause, reason or person calls your heart…

The Surfrider Foundation was founded in 1984 by a group of surfers in Malibu, California that noticed a pollution issue needed to be addressed. They organized this foundation to help clean up our beaches and now it has expanded along

Photo Credit Emma Mascal

both coasts. This foundation welcomes anyone who wants to make a difference whether you surf or not. There are now 50,000 members and 90 chapters.

DC Chapter Cleanup Coordinator, Emma Mascal, has been doing beach cleanups with her family since high school. She participated with the Jersey Shore Surfrider Foundation where they did both cleanups and grass planting. She now works for the Environmental Protection Agency as a fellow with their Trash Free Waters program.

“I’ve maintained my role as a cleanup events coordinator because I find that I can share my job’s educational materials with my volunteer friends. And my community engagement role helps me tailor my fellowship work to meet the needs of the stakeholders,” Emma said about how her fellowship and position with the foundation work well together.

On Saturday, July 15, 2017 I woke up early to drive to Rehoboth Beach, DE to meet up with the other volunteers. Always up for an adventure, I was excited to finally get involved with beach cleanups. I have done Potomac Watershed cleanups in the past but the beach is where my heart is…

The DC Chapter met at Keybox Beach where Emma distributed the two trash bags and gloves. The yellow bags are for trash and the blue for recycling. I was surprised at how few volunteers showed up and hoped the numbers were higher for other cleanups. I met my beach cleanup buddy, Marina Feeser, when I first arrived. Marina happened to be the Secretary of the Ocean City Chapter and had wanted to get involved more with the DC Chapter.

“What an amazing difference it could make it everyone cared enough to clean up their own trash when they are at the beach. We all want to enjoy the beach so why not do our part to keep it clean?” Marina said.

As we trekked doing our beachcomb, I saw a small crab scurry into its hole in the sand as seagulls darted into the water to snatch a fish from the ocean. While growing up in Northern California, my parents took me to the beach starting at a very young age. I learned how to swim by age three and the beach has always felt like home. Marine life has fascinated me since then and it saddens me to learn what our trash has been doing to their livelihood.

We found balloon ribbons all over and tangled in seaweed and bits of popped balloons scattered all over the sand. I was appalled at how much balloon trash we found! There is another organization I learned about called Balloons Blow… Don’t Let Them Go! After this cleanup, I hope one day that balloons are banned from beaches.

“I am very concerned about balloon litter. It seems to be a common item that is found, it is dangerous to marine life and terrestrial life, and it hints at a more dangerous littering mentality because people often think it is ok to release balloons reveals” Emma said about what she finds the most alarming during cleanups.

I wish more people would realize the deadly implications that come with leaving their trash at the beach in particular. These bits of balloons or other plastics find their way not only swirling around our oceans but in the bellies of marine life where it slowly kills these animals.

Marina and I holding one huge piece of trash…only smiling since it will be removed.

Only an hour into cleaning the shore, the sky was darkening by the minute until finally it tore open and soaked us to the bone. We laughed and continued to clean until Emma called us over to collect the trash bags to be recorded. The weather was still warm and lovely. The rain continued to pour as Emma weighed and recorded each bag. The 14 volunteers together collected 112 pounds of litter; 76 pounds of non-recyclable materials and 36 pounds of recyclable material.

I loved watching the raindrops hit the sand and create these tiny little holes.

Emma weighing the trash bags. Photo Credit Marina Feeser.

Once we were finished cleaning, Marina and I hung out at the beach and stood in the waves talking about ocean conservancy among other things. We started talking about dolphins and after I told her they are my favorite animal she screamed and pointed saying, “Look!” Sure enough two fins popped out of the water at the far left of the ocean. We watched them pop up a few more times as they swam across our view to the other side of the beach. I cannot help but wonder if there is something behind signs like that….

Photo Credit Marina Feeser

Marina told me about this incredible documentary called Chasing Coral on Netflix and I knew it was next on my movie watching rotation.

Once back in Washington, D.C. I opened my Netflix link and the first show advertisement was Chasing Coral! I learned too that it had only been released the day before on Netflix and I could not believe the serendipitous timing! I was mesmerized and enjoyed learning a part of ecosystem that is more important than the public realizes.

The coral reefs are the forests of our oceans. Imagine if our forests began dying the way the coral reefs have been? The forests aid in the oxygen we breath to stay alive. The implications of losing them will create a domino effect of sorts. I recommend that everyone watch this documentary and especially with your kids! Find out what you can do to help preserve our oceans and bring the coral back to life.

Join the fun with the Surfrider Foundation! There can never be too many people who want to make a difference to help keep our beaches cleaner and our marine life healthier. You don’t have to be a member to attend the beach cleanups. Bring your kids and make a long weekend out of volunteering. You can also camp at the beaches in Delaware too. Conservation starts at home.

We were soaked! Why not take a group photo?

Written by Lisa M. Comento