On the third Saturday of every September, volunteers worldwide set aside time for one common purpose: to help clean up our oceans and beaches. This movement, known as International Coastal Clean-Up Day, started in 1986 in South Padre Island, Texas, when one woman organized a mass beach cleanup of 2,800 Texans. In the 22 years since that day, the movement has grown to include more than six million volunteers in 127 countries and in all 55 U.S. states and territories.
Youth volunteers have played a substantial role in this yearly event’s success. Approximately 2,000 sacks of garbage were hauled out of Manila Bay in the Philippines on September 15, 2008, by volunteers. Among government workers and representatives of the private sector, youth activists and organizations were present, including high school and university students, as well as members of the East Asian Youth Network (EASy), a group of young people, committed to protecting and managing the Seas of East Asia.
In Massachusetts, International Coastal Clean-Up day presented an opportunity for service learning. Young members of the My Turn organization, a non-profit working with youth aged 14-21, took time out of their day on September 24 to gather trash, clean, and collect data in the Nahant Beach Reservation. While helping to clean up their environment, these teens learned about the importance of protecting marine and coastal areas.
Youth in South Africa took the whole week to clean up rivers, canals and beaches in their country, following the tagline “Sea change starts with you!” Schools from Cape Town partnered with the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa and the Save our Seas Foundation to clear litter from various waterways while looking at river health and the effects of inland littering on bodies of water.
The youth from the Philippines, Massachusetts and South Africa join the ranks of hundreds of thousands of volunteers, young and old, that go to work each year removing millions of kilograms of litter from waterways and beaches around the world. But it doesn’t end there. By cleaning up the coasts, young people are seeing first-hand the negative impact that human culture can have on the environment and the impact of their own actions. A prime example of service learning, International Coastal Clean-Up Day improves our oceans by leaps and bounds, while inspiring a sense of responsibility for the environment. Global events like these demonstrate that the youth of the world can decide, to some degree, the state of the world that they will inherit.