The catalyst: For as long as Sara Bayles could remember, she’s loved the ocean. She saw it as a magical place that holds endless hours of exploration and wonderment. Bayles has always felt a natural inclination to protect the environment and look after wild animals, but she didn’t know how she could make a difference — until she started her Daily Ocean project and blog.
The aspiring writer and art instructor lives in Santa Monica, California. When she took a trip to the big island of Hawaii, Bayles leapt at the chance to swim with the sea turtles and spinner dolphins in the warm Pacific waters. After her trip, though, she was taken aback at the contrast between the stunning Hawaiian sunsets and the Santa Monica beach, where birds pecked at plastic bags and rubbish was strewn along the sand.
After doing more research, she was shocked to discover the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an area in the Pacific Ocean where the currents swirl together, collecting about 10 million tons of trash. “It is estimated to be the size of twice the continental United States. But there is more than one of these oceanic gyres; there are five,” Bayles explains in awe.
Of her home beaches, she says, “I saw so much trash on the beach and thought, What could I do?”
The act: In between book writing and teaching art for a local nonprofit, 34-year-old Bayles couldn’t make it to organized beach cleanups. Then she realized she didn’t have to wait for an organization to set up a beach cleanup day. She set a goal: pick up trash for 20 minutes a day for 365 (nonconsecutive) days.
Four days a week, Bayles scours the stretch of sand half a mile south of the Santa Monica Pier — collecting, weighing, and blogging findings on her website, the Daily Ocean. Every blog includes a tally: garbage weight and a countdown to day 365. On top of the “OMG, no they didn’t list”: syringes, condoms, baby doll heads, voodoo dolls, and soiled diapers.
What upsets her most are the convenience-store items: Cigarette butts, plastic bags, candy wrappers, and fast-food packaging make up 90% of her collection. “That’s disturbing,” says Bayles. On average, she picks up four pounds of trash per trek, or enough rubbish to fill a reusable grocery bag. The heaviest on a single run: 14 pounds.
The ripple: More than 165 days along, Bayles has collected more than 665 pounds of junk. That’s heftier “than the world’s heaviest sumo wrestler,” she writes. She has been educating, empowering, and inspiring the global community to pick up more than half a ton of trash so far — motivating hundreds of beach-goers to become beach-doers.
Across the country, Danielle Richardet started collecting cigarette butts in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, for 20 minutes at a time and posting the results on her own blog. She writes: “We all impact each other. Sometimes we don’t even know we’ve made a difference in someone’s life. The ripple effects that we help create can be so powerful.”
The farthest and most dramatic ripple, Anke from Germany, retrieves rubbish from the Baltic Sea and creates beautiful artwork with it.
Bayles’s determination has led her to become an environmental activist and mentor. “I didn’t expect to learn so much about plastic bag bans and water bottles,” Bayles says. On the not-so-sandy front steps of the state capitol last summer, she lobbied for AB1998, the plastic bag ban.
What’s next? Bayles is shopping for a literary agent for her fantasy novel, “Calliope and the Heart of the Sea,” about a girl’s crusade to save the ocean. She hopes her Santa Monica cleanup crusade will lead her to an environmental research expedition, just south of the Pacific Ocean. She’s fundraising (with a goal of $25,000) for a trip with her husband, a marine biologist, to the open waters to collect water samples, to study plankton and the effects of micro-pollutants in the ocean, and of course to blog about her findings.