Back in school, we all learnt about the classification of soil. Since I live close to the Northern Plains, and particularly the mountains, I know how useful a rich nutrient-laden soil can be! As the topography changes, the soil changes, but nutrients are important for any soil, irrespective of the region.
Coming to coasts, who doesn’t enjoy the large expanse of that white sand spread across the coastline? While some build castles, others build nature.
It wasn’t very long ago when turtles were a common sight at many beaches; not only are they a rare sight now but also endangered. The reasons? Too many to name. Turtles lay about 100 eggs at a time but not all get hatched. Those that remain unhatched add nutrients to the sand, replenishing the beach of the missing nutrients, thus building the coastal ecosystem stronger and healthier.
While the green turtle grazes the seagrass bed, making it more productive, Hawksbill turtles eat sponges thus preventing them from out-competing slow-growing corals. Now, this is just one species of the vast marine ecosystem; consider a gazillion more, and if all were to become extinct, how would the environment bare such an inexplicable loss?
The coasts have gems, but unlike other gems, these don’t shine as much; unfortunate yet true. With excessive human activity in and around the coasts and a lazy, sleepy conscience, it was becoming increasingly difficult to see the sorry sight of the beaches that were turning into huge dumping grounds. Recent times have seen an awakening among the people, who have come together in various parts of the world to do what they can, irrespective of fame and laurels. People now realise the difference between the environment which they inherited from their forefathers and that, which they would be leaving for their future generations. The drive has come from within, and people from all walks of life are coming forward to restore what was lost!
The most recent activity which was taken up by our Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi at the Mamallapuram Beach highlighted an easy, yet an extremely efficient activity that can be taken up on a regular basis – Plogging (a Swedish discovery, which combines jogging with picking up the litter that comes your way!)
Another pursuit was started 3 years ago, by Afroz Shah, and today, 20 million kg trash later, Versova beach stands cleaned. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) called it the world’s largest beach cleanup. Be it Juhu beach in Mumbai or beaches in Johor, Malaysia – beach cleaning activities are on the rise with community participation and the response has been overwhelming.
Another interesting story is that of Boracay Island, which has been built into a sustainable ecosystem in the Western Visayas, in the Philippines. Brazil is not far behind; here thousands of people are taking part in a huge cleanup operation to remove oil and tar from beaches along Brazil’s north-eastern coast. This is more challenging than a typical oil spill because the dense crude is not floating on the surface and only appears when it washes up onshore.
Such cleanup activities ensure that beach sand and gravel do not get saturated with oil; this would damage the normal vegetation and populations of the substrate biomass. It also keeps a check on the rocks and boulders, so that they are not coated with sticky residue, which would otherwise interfere with recreational uses of the shoreline and could be toxic to coastal wildlife. These activities will do a lot of good to the marine ecosystem, which is diminishing and is affected due to severe air, water, and soil pollution.
Besides the case of turtles and how they help in nurturing the marine ecosystem, the beaches when cleaned up would help restore the marine ecosystem to its former state.
Eutrophication causes algal bloom, which in turn creates a dead zone by blocking sunlight, and oxygen, and killing the aquatic life. The local nutrient input originating from the litter we create at the shore is washed away by the waves, and lands inside the water, adding to the cause of eutrophication.
The toxic chemicals that get washed away are taken in by the marine organisms; these ultimately lead back to the food chain at higher levels, causing major health risks. This is essentially known as biomagnification.
So, cleaning the beach would mean you are putting a check on eutrophication as well as biomagnification. This would help improve the marine ecosystem. Keeping a check on the number of toxins that get washed away would also ensure that marine animals are not killed. Thus, maintaining their population.
Apart from this, the beach cleanup activities also serve as an epicentre for historical data evidence and collection. For instance, a bottle found at a coast in Andamans may or may not have originated at the same place. This would also help us research more on the waste generation habits of people in and around the world.
The white sands and the gushing sound of water make one happy, and we should be willing enough to restore beaches so that our future generations can experience the coastal life in all its glory! After all, Carl Safina made absolute sense when he quoted:
“The coast is an edgy place. Living on the coast presents certain stark realities and wild, rare beauty. Continent confronts ocean. Weather intensifies. It’s a place of tide and tantrum; of flirtations among fresh- and salt waters, forests and shores; of tense negotiations with an ocean that gives much but demands more. Every year the raw rim that is this coast gets hammered and reshaped like molten bronze. This place roils with power and a sometimes terrible beauty. The coast remains youthful, daring, uncertain about tomorrow. The guessing, the risk; in a way, we’re all thrill-seekers here.”
― The View from Lazy Point: A Natural Year in an Unnatural World