In his work at Ocean Blue Project, Richard Arterbury said he has found that more people know what to expect at a Christmas tree lighting than a beach cleanup.
Arterbury and his team at the environmental nonprofit that focuses on river restoration and ocean health are looking to close that knowledge gap. They are filming a documentary on the Oregon Coast about beach cleanups and the consequences that come with increasing plastic marine debris.
Starting in April, Ocean Blue Project will host and document about 50 beach cleanups on the West Coast. A large portion will be filmed on Oregon beaches, including Fort Stevens State Park, Seaside and Tolovana State Park. The film, tentatively titled “Do it for the beaches,” is expected to be released in about a year.
“We wanted to document what we were already doing,” said Arterbury, president of Ocean Blue Project. “When we’re on the beach doing cleanups, people ask, ‘What are you doing?’ and when we show them what we are picking up they are shocked and surprised.”
Throughout the tour, the 5-year-old nonprofit is aiming to remove more than 50,000 pounds of plastics and microplastics. Microplastics are extremely small pieces of debris broken down from larger waste in the ocean, coming in a variety of colors and often mistaken for sea glass.
Earlier this year, more than 240 pounds was filtered from the sand in front of Haystack Rock. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates 100 million tons of this debris fills the ocean, impacting thousands of marine animals who ingest it. There has been a good amount of local attention drawn to this issue over the last five years. Multiple cleanup events have happened throughout the spring and summer, and a program that turns plastics into jewelry for awareness launched earlier this year.
While there have been many documentaries made to address the consequences of microplastic pollution in the ocean, this is one of the few to focus solely on the United States. The Ocean Blue Project is also focusing on the people who conduct and volunteer at beach cleanups. One of the goals of the documentary, outreach coordinator Karise Boyce said, is to conduct an ethnographic study of beach communities to share the stories of those who face coastal pollution every day.
“It’s in their face every day,” Boyce said. “We want to share their stories with people who live inland who may be making decisions about the pollution that may end up on the beaches.”
A large part of the documentary will be dedicated to educating people about the dangerous effects of plastic pollution in the ocean as it pertains to sea life and environmental health. Microplastics never biodegrade, and the tiny plastic pieces have an affinity to absorb chemicals — which are often carcinogenic — through broken edges and surfaces.
But as an anthropologist, Boyce is looking to study the effects of pollution past physical health.
“We’re looking to see how communities are affected. How is their well-being emotionally and mentally? And what are the economic impacts? Can we feel a difference in tourism and industry?” Boyce said. “We want to help people see how land-based pollution is impacting these communities in every way.”
While the Ocean Blue Project is based in Bend, Arterbury’s passion for environmental activism is drawn from a love of the coast.
“I’ve spent the summers on the coast for the last eight years and fell in love with it. It’s the most beautiful place,” he said. “And what keeps me going back is the volunteers wanting to do another beach cleanup. Because cleaning up the beaches is a job that never ends.”
Moving forward, Boyce and Arterbury plan to reach out to local businesses and community leaders associated with each beach to gather local perspectives.
With more than 8 million tons of plastic deposited into the ocean each year, focusing on educating people on what a beach cleanup can accomplish is an important step toward eliminating plastic pollution on Oregon’s beaches, Arterbury said.
“We want to allow everyone to see what inspires us to continue doing (beach cleanups). Making a documentary about what a beach cleanup is will honestly make it easier for everyone,” he said. “We want people to go to the beach, know you can grab a bit of plastic to help out and know why.”