BlueTubes: The Beginning

I went to the beach for a walk one beautiful morning with an hour to spare. There was a plastic soda cup, probably left by a careless visitor. I picked it up. I spotted more trash and picked that up too. Some was fresh like the cup, but much of it was old and weathered. If it were only a matter of training the rare litterer not to litter, our beaches would stay clean. It’s not that simple. More and more of our trash is plastic, and this doesn’t decompose like organic trash. It lasts. That weathered plastic on our beach could be part of a bleach jug that washed out to sea in the Caribbean, was carried by currents, fragmented into small pieces and came ashore here. Clean beaches require constant cleaning.

 Eventually, bending over to pick up the bottle cap meant dropping the rope that had already been collected. I should have remembered to bring a bag. I headed to the nearest garbage can and peered in. There was a bag and it was full of beach trash: straws, plastic forks, cigarette butts and a lot of plastic weathered beyond recognition. It looked like the trash that I had been picking up.

 This was the “Aha!” moment. Aha! There are others combing the beach for trash. Aha! If people who pick up trash had a bag, they could pick up more trash. Aha! If people who don’t normally pick up trash were given a bag and gentle encouragement just before they reached the beach, they might form a trash picking-up habit. Aha! Loads of plastic could be removed from the ocean this way. And Aha! If people donated their clean, used bags, this endeavor would be self-sustaining and maintenance free.

 Visions of BlueTubes began to form in my mind. My occasional, small effort doesn’t amount to much, but if a lot of people put in a little effort everywhere all the time, amazing things would happen. Many helping hands would be part of something much bigger than we could accomplish with just two, and that is really cool!

I have been to beach clean-up days. They are fun, well-organized and sometimes they even give out t-shirts. They are like big bursts of trash-bashing energy. BlueTubes would also be about clean beaches and plastic-free oceans, but they would go about it differently. They would be all over, all the time. They would keep beaches beautiful, prevent fresh trash from entering the ocean and keep old trash from re-entering the ocean.

 After much thinking, asking, listening, tweaking and a couple false starts, BlueTubes were ready for the beach. They started popping up at dune cross-overs in Brevard County on Florida’s east coast, our home surf, in June. Today we have fifty here and are starting to install BlueTubes in other areas.

We have good people with useful skills working on BlueTubes. Marlis is creative and a wizard with technology. Young Sierra is our social media mavin. Tom is the numbers man. I am the marine biologist. We have generous businesses and individuals who fund BlueTubes through annual sponsorships and support scientific research on ocean plastic as well. Check them out on our website. Join them. We have local governments who have welcomed BlueTubes to their beaches. We have a great many people who have shared their terrific ideas and advice. We have volunteers who make sure the BlueTubes are full of bags. Best of all are the beach-goers who grab a bag, pick up trash and throw it away whenever they go to the beach.

 This is the beginning. There is still plastic in the ocean. There are beaches to tube and sponsors to find. There are groups to partner with who will bring BlueTubes to their far-away beaches. There are posts to write. Stay tuned for fascinating essays on ocean creatures and people, particularly beautiful beaches, the latest scientific findings on ocean plastic and recycling break-throughs. Don’t stop picking up and throwing away, but do smile and give yourself a pat on the back. We are all part of something big. We are part of the solution.