‘We don’t want an island full of trash’

Save the date! Volunteer for the International Coastal Cleanup this Saturday
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Posted on Sep 17 2020
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Over a thousand volunteers came together to pick up trash at different locations in the CNMI to join the global community in the International Coastal Cleanup celebration last year. (Iva Maurin)

Youth volunteer group Saipan Cleanup is on a mission to clean the beaches of Saipan one hike at a time. Formed in March, they were appalled at the amount of trash they saw on the beach, decided to take action, and are now a big inspiration to many in the community. (Contributed Photo)

A perfect weekend would be going to the beach to swim and have a picnic. Now imagine arriving at the beach and then seeing over 14,000 cigarette butts, almost 4,000 beverage cans, 1,500 plastic bottles, and over a thousand food wrappers scattered all over the place.

That would probably spoil the fun, right?

Yet these are exactly the kind and amount of trash the over 1,600 volunteers collected in the CNMI during the International Coastal Cleanup in September last year.

This Saturday, Sept. 19, the CNMI community will again join the rest of the world in this international cleanup event, and we are all counting on each other to take part in keeping this beautiful island clean. According to Division of Coastal Resources Management’s Colleen Flores, who oversees the island’s ICC, about 750 volunteers have signed up so far.

Of all trash collected, cigarette butts, at 14,618, ranks first on the type of trash collected on the island. This mirrors the international scene, as it also ranks first, at 5.7 million cigarette butts collected worldwide last year. Next to cigarette butts, in the CNMI, are microplastics—plastic pieces less than 2.5 cm.

Youth volunteer group Saipan Cleanup is on a mission to clean the beaches of Saipan one hike at a time. Formed in March, they were appalled at the amount of trash they saw on the beach, decided to take action, and are now a big inspiration to many in the community. (Contributed Photo)

“As a coastal community, we experience first-hand the effects and impacts of marine debris. Marine debris, specifically plastic, never fully biodegrades. Instead, it breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces until it becomes microplastic,” Flores said.

Microplastics have adverse effects on humans as they move through the marine food chain. Local livelihood, the economy, and culture depend so much on the environment that everyone must come together to fight ocean pollution in the CNMI, she added.

“The International Coastal Cleanup is a perfect opportunity for our community members to take action. …Individuals looking to join the ICC can meet the [Bureau of Environmental and Coastal Quality] team on Saturday at 8am, as we clean the shores of Tank Beach, Kagman,” she said.

Youth take charge
At last year’s ICC, the CNMI had 1,617 volunteers cleaning up 76 locations, and collected 9,427 lbs of trash.

Saipan had 884 volunteers who cleaned up 47 locations and collected 5,820 lbs; Rota had 646 volunteers who cleaned up 18 sites and collected 2,542 lbs; and Rota had 87 volunteers who cleaned up 11 sites, and collected 1,065 lbs of trash.

Yet many in the community have been environmentally-proactive, cleaning up the islands even beyond the September ICC date. Among them is a group of young hikers taking charge, cleaning beaches one hike at a time, and they call themselves “Saipan Cleanup.” They are Grace Choi, Louisa Han, Tahj Salas, Dylan Mister, Abbas Shakir, Tonyboy Tenorio, and Logan Mister. Their group was formed last year in March, on a hike out to the little pocket beaches in Dandan, after being appalled by the amount of trash on each beach, and knowing that it was heavily affecting marine life, especially after finding a dead shark on the beach on that same hike. To inspire people to pick trash up, the group set up their own page on Instagram.

Mister said that picking up the trash “allows the trash to end up somewhere that isn’t a fish or marine creatures’ stomach,” among many other benefits. He added that there are about 30 volunteers who help out when they can, and that their numbers are steadily growing.

Over a thousand volunteers came together to pick up trash at different locations in the CNMI to join the global community in the International Coastal Cleanup celebration last year. (Iva Maurin)

“We thought cleanups were a good simple way we could make an impact. …We continue doing it because ‘why not?’ but personally, as a kid, the ocean had always brought so much to me, I figured it was time to give back to it,” he said.

As for the kinds of waste they collect, Mister said that the main trash they collect are marine debris but that there are always trash from people who go to the beach. He said batteries are very common in Dandan, which they assume are from night fishers.

“Other places around the island are heavily littered with [beer cans]. It’s such a shame that people aren’t responsible to pick up after themselves,” he said.

For Saipan Cleanup, the greatest solution to the trash problem is to reduce plastic use. “Reusing your plastic is also a great way to conserve. …Little things like not taking a plastic bag at the grocery store makes the biggest difference if everyone were to do it,” Mister added.

The young environmentalists also envision a recycling center that would pay citizens to recycle, a small incentive that could change the overall outlook regarding trash on island, and that could encourage people to responsibly manage trash.

“We all need to work together to dig ourselves out of the hole we have dug,” he said. “…Be responsible and respect our islands for their natural beauty. Don’t leave any trash anywhere, and if you ever go somewhere try to pick up one or two pieces of trash. If we all work together Saipan could be trash free.”

Young people make up a fraction of the island’s population, but they make up the entirety of the CNMI’s future. They will be tomorrow’s teachers, physicians, environmentalists, officials, farmers, fishermen, everything… and it is to the CNMI’s good that they are already taking charge right now.

These words from a young environmentalist could never have been more true. So, it’s a date, let us all volunteer this Saturday for the International Coastal Cleanup and help cleanup. After all, no human would ever want to live on an island full of trash.

Iva Maurin | Author
Iva Maurin is a communications specialist with environment and community outreach experience in the Philippines and in California. She has a background in graphic arts and is the Saipan Tribune’s community and environment reporter. Contact her at iva_maurin@saipantribune.com
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