Posted by Rick Civelli | 08.30.2012 | Sea Turtle Camp News

Carrying the Conservation Message

Every year we grapple with the seemingly contradictory concepts of reducing our carbon footprint while running a safe, educational summer program. This year, thanks to the commitment of our campers, we managed to run the least wasteful program to date!

First of all, moving our accommodations closer to both the hospital and nests put a huge dent in our fuel consumption. A 50 minute van ride was slashed to just 10 minutes, and nests were essentially at our doorstep. A pleasant, unforeseen bonus was the sense of pride and ownership the campers took in their area beaches. Watching them stampede to fill in abandoned holes or seeing the unsolicited race to pick up trash really were inspiring moments for all instructors.

Additionally, not a single disposable plastic water bottle was purchased for camp. I know; I did the shopping. Students faithfully brought nalgenes and stainless steel canteens with them everywhere. We were fortunate that our students could see the lasting impact of those bottles, whether they had visited the landfill or not. Recent estimates show American dependency on single-use plastic water bottles isn’t abating. Total sales last year were over 9 billion gallons – that’s about 222 bottle per person per year. Thankfully, our campers are bringing the average down. And not just with plastic bottles. Since we had access to a kitchen with plates and cups, students did not need to use disposable flatware or silverware.

Students were great about not just focusing exclusively on the plastic problem. Frequent beach sweeps yielded bags of debris, comprised of both large and small items. By and large the most commonly reoccurring item found in the clean-ups were cigarette butts. Campers filled empty three pound pretzel tubs with the discarded butts. Every location surveyed had these items there. All of this waste has created a movement in the area as several beaches are striving to ban smoking. Currently, no North Carolina beaches are smoke-free. Despite the debate, the students’ unwavering dedication to the clean-ups certainly has made the ocean and beaches safer for marine life.

Probably the most significant impact, however, will be the message that they carry back with them. Talking with plastics researcher Bonnie Monteleone was one of the highlights for the Marine Biology Immersion campers. Many were interested in continuing to follow her exploits as she explored plastic accumulation in the different ocean gyres, which can be found on her plastic oceans blog. Whether students saw Bonnie speak or not, they all saw the impacts that marine debris has on the oceans and its inhabitants. And each camper will have that memory imprinted, similar to the imprint carried by a hatchling that guides its way home.

We look forward to hearing how this year’s Sea Turtle Camp students will share their story.