Other Voices

Beach trash didn’t get there by itself

Monday was World Ocean Day, and people across the planet talked about how to keep water bottles, micro-trash and other plastics out of our oceans.

Texas beaches along the Gulf of Mexico are some of the trashiest in the nation. To quote a long-ago comic strip panel, “There Oughta be a Law!”

There is, but it’s not often obeyed.

Human-made debris found on Texas beaches includes stuff transported there by waves, tides and winds, which is called marine debris, and plain old litter and garbage left by beachgoers.

There are long stretches of remote Gulf beachfront blighted by marine debris and popular spots littered with garbage from shoreline to dune.

Everything from thousands of plastic water bottles to hard hats to netting to cans to deflating Mylar balloons can found in the surf.

The debris and litter mar the unique beauty of the long stretches of sandy beaches Texas is blessed to have.

It has become the status quo, and it diminishes our role as protectors of this bounty. It must stop.

The debris negatively affects coastal wildlife. You will find turtle bites in bottles and salt sacks. Birds get entangled in fishing tackle. Sea turtles often ingest balloons or become entangled by the strings, which can cause injury or even death.

The insidious increase in micro-trash, ever-smaller multicolored pieces of plastic, also leads to problems because it can be mistaken for food by all sorts of wildlife.

Communities are starting to understand that marine debris can cost businesses and whole economies in tax dollars, tourism revenues and environmental impacts.

Many towns are putting money into anti-litter campaigns and are providing more trash and recycling bins for the growing crowds. This is a good first step, but more is needed.

We should modify our existing laws to enable more enforcement, such as making it the beach-goer’s responsibility to dispose of trash within a predetermined radius.

If that doesn’t work, let’s at the very least enforce our existing laws by meting out fines and modifying the laws where necessary to make it easier to catch culprits in the act for the sake of our environment and our economies.

We can’t argue that marine debris is part of a natural cycle or that it existed millions of years ago. It started with us, and it must end with us.

Tony Amos and Katie Swanson are with The University of Texas at Austin Marine Science Institute.