Summertime in the Northern Hemisphere means beach time for many of us, but as we use these amazing public resources, we often forget that beaches are under threat. Pollution, harvesting of sand for a variety of uses, and encroachment by development are issues at beaches around the world.
Here are five easy ways you can help keep beaches clean, public, and accessible so they’ll be enjoyable for everyone, including the next generation of people and wildlife:
1. Beach Cleanup
Think trash doesn’t belong on a beach? You and me both. Beaches worldwide are covered in junk cast aside by visitors as well as the waves, and pollution in waterways reaches beaches, too. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Organized cleanup efforts like California Coastal Cleanup Day enlist armies of thousands to swarm beaches and remove garbage. In California, that trash is actually carefully cataloged and studied to provide more information about the makeup of beach pollution. You don’t have to wait for an organized event, though. You can make a habit of cleaning up when you’re at the beach, or you can adopt a beach with a group of friends and make it an ongoing project.
Another option is to contribute to groups that provide cleanup services after oil spills and other industrial accidents. In this case, it’s too dangerous for everyday citizens to be involved personally in the cleanup, but they can help by donating funds and in-kind goods (make sure to donate supplies that organizations say they actually need), as well as helping cleanup workers. After a long day sweltering in a Hazmat suit, a friendly face with some food or something to drink can be a great thing to see.
When they’re not responding to disasters, these groups act as lobbyists to promote beach protection, prevent future incidents, and defend wildlife. Your contributions will be an immense help.
2. Get Involved in Local Politics
Some of the most important decisions about beaches are made at the local level, or by politicians who started locally and worked their way into positions of higher power in the state government. Get involved at the ground (sand?) level by participating in elections, campaigns and other events locally. Know your politicians and get ready to do some advocacy work. If your politician promotes environmental protection, make sure to send notes of appreciation and support. If your representative doesn’t, find out why not, and prepare convincing arguments to persuade your representative to reconsider.
This includes attending planning commission meetings and other events that might touch upon beach issues, like approvals for new developments, ordinances that change the way beaches can be used, and measures to set aside beaches as public spaces. For residents of California and other states where public access laws enshrine public access to beaches, it’s especially important to get involved in these events in order to make sure that beaches aren’t taken from the public and turned into private spaces limited to those who can afford them.
3. Support Beach Restoration Projects
Beaches are fragile environments, easily damaged by inappropriate usage, heavy storms and development. If a beach is badly damaged and starting to erode, it might need replanting with native vegetation, rebuilding of sandbars and berms, and other measures to protect it. Local beach restoration projects frequently need support from members of the public, including volunteer labor on workdays as well as financial support from people who may not have the time or ability to put in volunteer hours.
These projects do more than making a beach pretty and usable again. They can also protect habitat for threatened or endangered species, and they help ensure that the beach continues to act as a weather buffer. This is an important role for beaches, which act as part of an interconnected system of wetlands and beaches to protect inland environments, ensuring that they’re able to survive harsh storms. Without these buffers in place, permanent environmental changes can occur, including flooding, damage to native habitat and changes to vegetation that force animals to look elsewhere for food and shelter.
4. Join a Wildlife Monitoring Program
Citizen scientists are important figures in beach communities. They can help with initiatives that require a lot of time on the ground, but don’t have the resources to provide staff to watch every foot of a beach. If you become a wildlife monitor, you’ll have a section of beach to watch for turtles, birds and other species of interest, and you can record everything about them while also protecting them from interference; for example, you might monitor turtles during nesting season to make sure they aren’t disrupted.
Your work will help to rebuild dwindling animal populations, protect species that need a little help, and gather important data for scientists working on environmental protection issues. If you don’t have the time or ability to volunteer, you can also contribute funds to monitoring programs to help them pay for staff, training and equipment; for example, if you don’t live by a beach, but you visit one every year with your family, maybe you can contribute to its monitoring program every year as part of your visit.
5. Join and Support Beach Protection Organizations
Groups like the Surfrider Foundation work constantly on beach advocacy work, including lobbying, education, cleanups and research. They can use assistance from members of the public as both active and contributing members with the time, funds and energy to commit to helping with beach conservation. Many provide helpful tools for members, like action items and briefs with pre-written letters to help people contact elected officials, along with packages of educational material for people who want to advocate in their communities.
This work gives beaches a voice in politics and society, ensuring that they have a chance of surviving not just climate change and the harsh realities of nature, but the abuses of humans as well.