The International Coastal Cleanup helped Arturo Medina solve a marine debris mystery.
Every year, volunteers all over the world participate in a global effort to remove trash from coasts and waterways. But the International Coastal Cleanup® is about more than just cleaning up.
For Arturo E. Alfaro Medina, Peru’s Cleanup Coordinator since 1999, the most important part of the International Coastal Cleanup is the data collected each year. By analyzing what has been found on Peru’s beaches over the years, he can see trends start to form and then address those issues specifically.
For example, Arturo noticed that his volunteers were finding fewer and fewer plastic PET bottles along Peru’s ocean coastline. But at the inland Cleanups near Lake Titicaca, the numbers hadn’t changed; volunteers were still collecting large numbers of plastic bottles there.
What could account for the difference, Arturo wondered? He realized that the number of bottles on the coast decreased as the going rate being paid for recyclables went up. In other words, those plastic bottles became too valuable to toss.
However, because there are no inland recycling centers—and therefore no financial incentive to recycle—bottles near Lake Titicaca were still being discarded and ending up on the lakeshore.
“The Cleanup data is valuable because it helps us understand the problem we have with garbage,” Arturo says. But understanding the problem is just the first step.
When 6 tons of debris, including large pieces of wood, washed ashore on a small beach over the course of just two days, the marine debris mystery could not be ignored.
Arturo and his organization, VIDA – Instituto Para la Proteccion del Medio Ambiente, worked with their partners at the Peruvian Coast Guard to investigate. The debris had arrived on Playa Carpayo, a small peninsula of land located west of Lima, but they learned that it had originated at Magdalena del Mar, a beach about 7 miles southeast.
The debris had traveled up the coast due to marine currents and strong waves, but how did it arrive at Magdalena del Mar in the first place? They realized it was construction waste from nearby Lima that was being dumped at a site near the water. The storm washed it out to sea and then toward Playa Carpayo.
Arturo’s investigation paid off. He and VIDA worked with the government to designate construction dump sites farther from the water to avoid the risk of debris washing out to sea. While they are still seeing residual debris come ashore, Arturo is hopeful that it will taper off over time.
Starting with International Coastal Cleanup events in 2013, Ocean Conservancy will distribute new data forms that will help us learn more about what kinds of debris—from plastic bottles to construction waste—are polluting beaches and waterways around the world.
The new data forms are more specific, asking volunteers to note not just the type of items they find but what they are made of as well. Understanding what kinds of materials are on our beaches is important in order to advocate for product redesign or new policy solutions that would address the most problematic items and materials.
“Pulling out those subtle, but vital, details during data analysis allows us to use a fine-toothed comb to parse the issue,” says Ocean Conservancy Marine Debris Specialist Nicholas Mallos.
Armed with the new data forms, Arturo and his volunteers are ready learn even more about what’s polluting Peru’s coasts and waterways and how they can help solve the problem.
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