Come on a beach clean - it's good for the head and heart!
Updated: Jan 6, 2020
Aren't we blessed here in East Cork? As a native of Youghal originally and now back in East Cork I am a dedicated sea addict.
(It's Ok, I'm aware of it and I can stop any time I want...)
But if I don't get to the beach at least five times a week my blood feels itchy - not unlike the feeling I used get when I "needed" a cigarette ... so, there are worse addiction that sea addictions right?
What I'm not SO keen on is the littering. The daily spectacle of plastic bottle, cotton bud sticks, nappies, condoms (at least they're being used?? #proudsexeducator), sanitary waste and recently for some bizarre reason - full unopened bags of lettuce and spinach leaves! (???)
But I'm not here to whine. There's a lot of that happening already - take a look at any community page of Facebook or Twitter and you'll see plenty of comments from people saying "someone" should do something about the rubbish on our beautiful beaches.
Well guess what - you're someone!
And so am I. Pointing out rubbish, tut tutting and leaving it there is not a solution. I get it, I really do. Who wants to go for a walk and spend their leisure time gathering up other peoples" bagged good poo and empty coffee cups? Not me - that's for sure! But might it work in your favour if you do?
Definitely - the research is ongoing and the results are coming in. Beach cleaning is good for us. And here in East Cork thanks largely to one man Proinsias O Tuama and his growing team of locals, beach cleaning is a welcome new trend in the list of things-to-do on a weekend morning.
Littered beaches aren’t just bad for the environment and all the creatures who depend on it, they’re also bad for our mental health. I've written here before about the evidence based healing power of the sea - but here's the catch. Being on a beach with litter on it undermines that positive effect - (see the journal Environment and Behavior.) That's probably a no-brainer - but what might surprise you is that the type of litter seems to matter to our brains and therefore to how much of a downer it will be to see litter the next time you stroll down Garryvoe.
I've noticed it myself - when the litter is fishing related it's almost (just almost) a relief. It's still annoying, and concerning - especially when you come across a beautiful baby shark that's been strangled...But when I find beer cans, clothes and sandwich wrappers - I must say I get the rages.
Kayleigh Wyles, an environmental psychologist at Plymouth Marine Laboratory in the UK, researched this exact phenomenon. People experienced fishing-related litter as less distressing than other litter. She theorised, as I think we all might that the former is careless, which is bad, bit slightly better than deliberate disrespect.
The deliberate disrespect litter triggered anger and sadness in her subjects - so at least I'm normal!
When people in the study saw a clean, litter-free beach they reported feelings of relaxation and calm. Makes sense.
So while we have increasing evidence that spending time in nature, particularly near or in water is good for mental health, we now also know that when that area is littered both the area and the positive effect are literally spoiled.
What can we do?
Well, lots! We can join groups such as Clean Coasts Ballynamona, get involved online and in real life by following the hashtag #2minutebeachclean. It's actually fun! No really - it is! Obviously it's somewhat distressing to see all the litter - and you'd be amazed at how much we collect on group beach cleans - but knowing that you're part of something that is helping, that you have this goal in common with people whom you don't even know - yet - well, honestly, it's a buzz.
And from a psychological point of view there are things we do that keep us stuck. Complaining, whining, focussing on bad/annoying/dirty things, then feeling or pronouncing ourselves powerless to help or overcome them - and feeling alone. These are the most effective routes to misery. Choose them if you will - but given that there IS a choice - maybe get yourself a pair of gloves and next time you go for a walk pick up just three bits of plastic!
I know groups aren't for everyone - that's perfectly OK. Even if you're strolling alone you're helping yourself and our home planet enormously. And if you bring children think what great things you are teaching them! It's so easy - plus it's good exercise and a bit of craic - all good!!
You might think - sure I'm only one person ...
It might seem tiny in the face of the annual 8 million metric tons of rubbish dumped in our precious oceans annually. But imagine if everyone helped a tiny bit?
We are all part of the solution. We truly are.
So - here's my tip - keep an eye on Clean Coasts Ballynamona on Facebook and @ballynamona on Twitter for regular updates and just to let you know - all pickers, high viz vests, feel-good vibes and fantastic scenery are provided free of charge!
*This piece and originally appeared on friend and fellow Clean Coast member Sally O'Reilly's site and was reproduced with gladly given permission