IMG_1900 by Jimmy Pasch

As you may know, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was created as a federal holiday in 1983 to mark the birthday of the legendary civil rights leader. Later, in 1994, Congress designated the holiday as a national day of service, led by the Corporation for National and Community Service, which includes AmeriCorps. As the MLK Day of Service website explains, “The MLK Day of Service is a way to transform Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life and teachings into community action that helps solve social problems.” Without erasing the specificity, history, or importance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s particular struggles and the larger Civil Rights movement, this day of service seeks to honor his legacy by engaging community members in a variety of service projects.  Preserving our water is a vital and pressing social issue, and as an AmeriCorps member, I was happy to celebrate the day of service by working with students from Thomas Jefferson High School to clean up marine debris at Redondo Beach, in Des Moines, WA.

At Monday’s cleanup, 10 dedicated students and two teachers from Thomas Jefferson HS came out on their day off to remove marine debris and work towards a healthier Sound. The beach was in impressive shape already, but participants combed the beach for many of the smaller pieces of debris (such as bits of Styrofoam, and especially cigarette butts) that are harder to see but some of the most damaging for wildlife. Cigarette butts are actually made of plastic and leach out into the water various toxins that have accumulated from the tobacco smoke. Students also cleaned the grassy park above the beach, where they found even more debris that, over time, would have ended up in the water. At the end of the cleanup, we gathered to weigh the collected debris, which came in at 51 pounds!

Some of largest dangers to wildlife from marine debris are strangulation, ingestion, and bioaccumulation of toxins (increased concentration of toxins further up the food chain). Plastic is generally the worst and most common offender at our cleanups, and it does not biodegrade. Instead, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces that affect different levels of the water column and thus the entire food web (including humans), infiltrating our oceans in enormous, alarming, and harmful quantities. To reduce marine debris, avoid littering, reduce your waste (especially single-use plastic), and recycle and reuse wherever possible – plus create and join in cleanups when you can!