My wife and I recently returned from a pandemic-delayed trip to Komodo Island National Marine Park, and other distant Indonesian islands. Besides pristine serenity, we longed to find places that were untouched by plastic debris. A couple of beaches gave us that joy; their unscarred beauty was magic. Yet many beaches were impacted by empty bags of chips, water bottles, styrofoam, baby diapers, tangled fishing lines… These islands were often uninhabited and rarely visited: no villages, no park rangers, no big cruise ships.
We had come here on a relatively small ship with 12 other Western snorkelers and divers. Our guide told us the trash had been washed ashore from who knows where. It didn’t matter to us where things came from—that made the environment a political issue. We just wanted to make our own gesture of doing the right thing. And to put us in a new mindset wherever we traveled next. On one beach, in only twenty minutes, we combed the soft coral sands and picked up as much trash as we could, depositing it in our boat’s trash bin. There was plenty we had to leave behind.
We had made a small dent that we guessed would soon be carpeted over with more plastic. Though we were in plain sight, no one in our group joined us. One couple did say, “thank you.” I grew up in a time when teenagers left a Dairy Queen and giddily tossed their wrappers out of the car, onto the street. It took years before a new consciousness emerged.
We began to speculate. What if more travelers took it upon themselves to do a quick clean up of a portion of a beach, or for that matter a street, or a vacant lot that had become a random dumping ground? Specific to travel, what if more hotels, travel agencies, and advocacy groups, beyond calling themselves “environmentalists” or “eco-friendly,” encouraged clients to spend twenty minutes to make their own dent in the war on plastics? It could become the next cool thing. Small gestures can have a cumulative effec
Michael R. French
Michael French is a graduate of Stanford University and Northwestern University. He is a businessman and author who divides his time between Santa Barbara, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.