Cleaning the Coastlines

Amid the ongoing problem of plastic pollution and our oceans, eco-activist JJ Yosh explains what it was like to experience and solve this issue on a microscale.

| January/February 2020

cleaning
Photo by JJ Yosh and Shandrew PR

I was fortunate enough to be invited by SodaStream USA to serve in their initiative to reduce the impact of plastic pollution on Honduras’ coastal communities, and to help thousands of people in the process.

Honduras’ plastic pollution has a massive effect on the country’s environment. There’s no easy access to recycling centers, or even controlled waste management, so as plastic is produced, consumed, and discarded, waste collectively builds along mountain ranges, roadsides, and coastlines, eventually creating massive islands of plastics on the open ocean that are negatively affecting both human and wildlife populations.

debris
Photo by JJ Yosh and Shandrew PR



A large part of this pollution consists of practically invisible pieces of plastic known as “microplastics.” (We were actually able to see the breakdown of plastics into microplastic particles as we began our first day of cleanup.) These plastics raise concerns for living organisms across oceanic ecosystems; we may not realize it, but we eat and consume these plastics as well. Aquatic species at the bottom of the food chain (primarily plankton and shrimp) ingest microplastics. Consequently, predatory fish are contaminated by microplastics when feeding off prey. Humans consume the larger organisms in this chain, so by simply eating seafood and drinking water, we’re directly affected by microplastics. Removing microplastics from drinking water requires reverse osmosis, something impractical and out of the reach of the average person, especially in countries like Honduras.

In addition, we should all be aware that each year, 8 million metric tons of plastic pollute our oceans. This converts to five trash bags for every foot of coastline around the world, compounding annually. Nearly 2 million single-use plastic bags are distributed worldwide every 60 seconds. One million plastic bottles are bought every minute. This is what you and I live with. This isn’t just a problem in a faraway land, but one that impacts us all.

Results in Roatán

Honduras is a beautiful country that few get to visit. In just a few days, we witnessed the transformation we were able to effect on local coastlines, and it truly was an inspiring experience.

bridge
Photo by JJ Yosh and Shandrew PR

My multiday crusade to clean the oceans by boat and foot began with a flight to Miami to meet those also joining the beach cleanup. From Miami, we set off to Roatán, Honduras. Upon our arrival, where we were kindly welcomed by locals, we were able to listen to speeches from Honduran government officials, as well as local environmental groups, addressing the plastic and garbage problems that have created a growing threat to their coastal environment.

boats
Photo by JJ Yosh and Shandrew PR

On the first day of the trash cleanup, boats took us to various sites along the island coast of Roatán, where mangrove trees act like nets to catch the plastic floating by. It was overwhelming to see just how much plastic was polluting these areas. Throughout the day, my colleagues and I created games to make trash pickup more enjoyable: scavenger hunts to discover hidden treasures; basketball games using our bags as hoops; and a friendly competition to push how many bags of trash we filled, which brought real light to this devastating reality. 

Volunteers on boats utilized a brand-new device called the “Holy Turtle” to catch plastic on the water without harming marine life. This 1,000-foot floating lattice is towed by one ship at either end, and it encircles and sweeps up plastic debris along any given coastal region, while fish and other animals can safely escape through large vent holes.

boat-fleet
Photo by JJ Yosh and Shandrew PR

On the second day, we shuttled out to different spots along the beaches. About 100 people returned from the first day’s group, and several hundred students from local schools also joined us; their effort was amazing. Some of the beach sites were already cleaned prior to our arrival because of the high percentage of students at work before us, which proved how much the community cared about this mission. Despite Honduras’ hot and humid weather making the second day more challenging, we pushed ourselves, and in the end, that made the experience even more rewarding.



trash
Photo by JJ Yosh and Shandrew PR

Uncovering the surfaces of hidden beauty in Honduras was an experience unlike any other, and I believe my participation was crucial to my understanding of the threat the oceans are facing. It was incredible to see how many people came to serve this mission. But, for the rest of the world, it’ll take more than a cleanup by activists like me. It takes a global village to make meaningful change that’ll help communities like Roatán in the long-run. 

plastic-fighters
Photo by JJ Yosh and Shandrew PR

At the end of the day, if you want to help, remember these few pieces of advice: Don’t feel overwhelmed. One little thing can go a long way; picking up trash along the way to work or carrying a reusable mug are small steps that can add up to a huge milestone over time. Lastly, make any eco-activism experience fun. If you don’t, you won’t want to keep doing it. And I can only hope for continued efforts and enthusiasm to carry projects, like the one I was a part of, forward into the future.


JJ Yosh has led people all over the world to explore and protect some of the most beautiful places on Earth. Today, he chronicles his adventures online, and produces media — including a feature-length film, Ancient Tomorrow — to get people outside and positively engaged with their own environment.






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