Birds, Marine Life Suffer From Debris Strewn on Miles of Beach
Volunteers pick up about a ton of beverage containers, diapers, tires, light bulbs and other waste from every mile of Gulf Coast beach during annual clean-up campaigns.
Even the rusted bodies of cars and a school bus can be found on the beaches of this barrier island in southern Texas.
But these cleanup efforts aren’t enough to prevent thousands of birds and other marine life from ingesting debris or becoming tangled in fishing line, six-pack rings or other trash.
After any southeaster storm, the beaches are covered with “paper cups and plastic bags and every conceivable piece of garbage that you can imagine,” said environmentalist-author Jack Rudloe of Panacea in the Florida panhandle.
Rudloe owns Gulf Specimens Co. and travels gulfwide in search of sea creatures for research and education.
“For everything you see that washes up on the beach there’s probably 10 times that sitting out there paving the bottom.” he said. “There’s oil cans, there’s tarpaulins, there’s just endless wire and bailing rope, and construction materials and just all sorts of stuff out there.”
It comes from small boats, oceangoing vessels and oil-drilling rigs. It also drifts into the gulf from coastal and river communities.
Marine debris is so obvious and pervasive that the Environmental Protection Agency’s Gulf of Mexico Program has made it the first target of what will be a series of nine gulf action plans.
A key element of the marine debris plan is to establish state boater’s pledge programs. Boaters would be asked, when they register their vessels or apply for fishing licenses, to promise not to dump refuse in the water.
Also proposed are pamphlets in several languages for the crews of foreign vessels, monitoring programs, a study of how river flow affects distribution of debris, awards for ports with the best trash facilities and creation of volunteer pollution patrols.
Three more action plans are scheduled for release by the end of 1992, which has been designated “The Year of the Gulf of Mexico.” They will deal with public health, habitat degradation and coastal and shoreline erosion.
The gulf program’s director, Douglas Lipka, said at least four more plans then will be developed on nutrient enrichment that causes fish-killing oxygen depletion, toxic substances-pesticides, freshwater inflow and living aquatic resources.
Also under discussion is a plan on offshore drilling-related issues of using bacteria and chemicals to clean up oil spills and the discharge of mud and water used in the drilling process.