As mothers and as early childhood educators, Kobe Benton and Ale Adams felt compelled to do something about the 8 million plus tonnes of plastic building up in our oceans every year.
They know all too well the best influence over a child is to lead by example—so when it came to teaching their students about sustainability they took it upon themselves to model it. Inspired by Take 3 For the Sea (@take3forthesea), their love for the ocean, passion to protect sea life and their daughters' futures, kindred spirits Kobe and Ale started a beach clean project in their seaside town, Merewether, Newcastle.
Merewether Beach Clean aims to spread awareness, educate and inspire others to make small changes. For Kobe, it was an answer to Mother Earth's calling for help as human beings populate and systematically destroy her. "We are obsessed with consuming! We need to slow down and simplify our lives."
Since starting in December 2016, the pair have organised more than 10 beach cleans. Balancing family and work, they endeavour to hold beach cleans every month, if not more often. In the first 6 months Kobe and Ale collected more than 3000 pieces of rubbish. No longer though do they have to sort by themselves, the 500 pieces collected each time. They now have a sorting station where all collectors help sift through the rubbish. As well as streamlining the process, it enables everyone involved to see the quantity recovered and what is being discarded at the beach and through the sewerage systems.
What is picked up by the volunteers at the beach reinforces what we already know—we have to refuse single use items: straws, coffee cups, water bottles and plastic bags. Unfortunately, much of the rubbish comes from cafes nearby, so while the project has been about cleaning up the beach, it has naturally evolved into a movement to change the behaviour and attitudes of beach-side cafe owners and their customers.
Other common items found amongst the debris include tampon wrappers, condoms, ear cotton buds, generally flushed through toilets. Not only are we sun-baking amongst it, we're swimming in it.
Kobe explains these items "come from all corners of the world, travelling through the ocean on what they call the '5 gyres'." These are the systems of circular ocean currents formed by the Earth's wind patterns and the rotation of the planet and its landmasses. Kobe says, "if no one takes the time to clean up the rubbish then it is never going to go away. With each new tide, more rubbish presents itself."
Beyond helping clean up their local beaches, this duo has brought together people from all walks of life, empowering them to make a positive impact in their community.
The involvement of others and the growing number of volunteers has created hope for Kobe and Ale that their work is enabling positive change. The most rewarding element for them is seeing the children help. Kobe says, "they always amaze us—they are so keen to lend their help, they inspire us to keep going and remind us this is why we are doing it, for their future, their children and their children's children. We want to teach the children how important they are, how important our actions and their voices can be."
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With the simple message that we need to consume less and clean-up the plastic that is polluting our beaches, Kobe and Al have kept things fairly straightforward as they spread the word through social media to friends and family. They have invested their time into the project, but no finances have been required for the initial stages.
The biggest challenge they have fronted is how to keep the project growing. It is all an experiment to find out what times suits the most amount of people. There have been disappointments, particularly by the lack of help from larger companies. But they remain hopeful that with the right approach they will be able to get local cafes, businesses and councils on board.
Interested in starting your own project? Kobe encourages anyone to start a beach clean, "just launch an Instagram or Facebook page and start connecting, spreading the word and set a day to get cleaning." Kobe says, "some days we don't have many volunteers because life just gets busy but it's still an opportunity for us to get to the beach. I love the feeling of cleaning up around people and knowing they're watching—it gets them thinking and I hope that they'll pick up the next piece themselves!" Like with everything, social media is the best place to engage with others and get inspired, so jump online and check out some of the beach cleans that are going on near you.
And remember, to keep rubbish out of our oceans in the first place, always try to refuse, reduce, reuse, repair and recycle.
Emily Jay worked for the United Nations Development Programme with countries most vulnerable to climate change. Now she is working with the sailing team 'Turn the Tide on Plastic'. The team is competing in the most prestigious and toughest round the world offshore sailing race – the Volvo Ocean Race. Emily is traveling around the world with the team to each stop-over city and loves working to inspire lasting change for a healthier ocean.