Although I don’t necessarily agree with the medium (is graffiti really the best way to discourage littering?), I do agree with the message. If you enjoy your beach you best take care of it because someone has to. I do my best to be a good steward to the beaches I frequent. Sometimes that means picking up your trash, sometimes it means picking up someone else’s trash, and sometimes that involves hauling a 100 pound metal pipe out of the surf before it breaks someone in half like I had to do this week.
Look at that beast… yikes.
So here’s the question to ask yourself: How can I make the place I swim better than how I found it? I think you have two major options, direct action and advocacy.
In the direct action department I think it’s pretty easy, go pick up some trash. Boom, good deed of the day done! It’s not too hard to do a mini beach clean up. All you need is a bucket (beats carrying a big garbage bag), gloves, closed toed shoes, a trash picker upper stick (optional), and maybe some hand sanitizer for later. Easy. I keep all that stuff in my truck just in case an opportunity arises. If I get to the beach and we can’t swim due to water quality problems I’ll go grab my bucket and pick up some garbage instead. It’s still a day at the beach right? Even if the beach looks fine you’ll find all kinds of crap once you start looking for it. Cigarette butts, bottles, styrofoam chunks, smelly toy lemurs, shoes, bottle caps, etc. I would encourage you to schedule the occasional clean up with your swim crew as a thank you to the body of water that gives you so much enjoyment throughout the year. It’s simple, social, inexpensive, and just a good thing to do.
Advocacy can prove to be a little harder. The open water community is very tight online, but more of a diaspora once we apply actual geography to it. It’s hard to pressure your local municipality to make pro-swimmer decisions on water quality and beach access with only the backing of a group of be-goggled out of towners on Facebook. Open Water Swimmers need to look for strategic allies with greater numbers and existing activist networks that also have an interest in protecting the same bodies of water. For me that was Surfrider. Although I wouldn’t necessarily self identify as a surfer, I’m a member because we share a common goal: “the protection of oceans, waves and beaches.” That’s a mission I can get behind!
I joined the local Surfrider chapter a couple years ago and by attending meetings I’ve learned a lot about the politics and realities of my local patch of ocean. I’ve also been able to provide a swimmer’s point of view to the group that they didn’t have previously. Over the course of the last year the San Luis Obispo Chapter has made strides towards increasing ocean water testing through the Blue Water Task Force Program. This year will see the beginning of new testing to supplement what the County of San Luis Obispo already does to give ocean goers a better idea of the quality of the water throughout the week. I find this to be hugely important. Although everyone focuses on the dangers of white sharks, waterborne pathogens are more likely to actually hurt you.
A lot of my swimmer friends have taken an interest in aquatic environmental issues and have partnered with various groups. Jen Schumacher partnered with Surfrider in Orange County for her first Catalina swim, David Barra and Rondie Davies in New York launched a full series of marathon swims down the Hudson River that benefit Riverkeeper, Jamie Patrick just joined forces this week with the Sierra Club for his next swim in Lake Tahoe, Gordon Gridley swims for the FRIENDS of the Great Salt Lake, and the list undoubtedly goes on. I’d like to encourage those of you that are Open Water Swim enthusiasts to look around your local community and find the groups that are supporting your body of water of choice (or those that flow into it) and find out how you can get involved and make a difference.