September 09 2019 – Kristin Shearer
I moved to Deerfield Beach, FL almost two years ago from Honduras, and various other parts of the world, to work as a scuba diving instructor. I spent quite a lot of time living in Brooklyn, NY where a lot of my eco-friendly habits started to form; I moved to FL in late 2017 and was aghast at the plastic problem, but more so the complete disconnect between humans and respect for the ocean. Perfect example is seeing dudes fishing on their own boat while we're on our dive boat, and seeing them throw their beer cans and cigarette butts directly onto the dinner they're trying to catch. Huge disconnect there. We live in South Florida with beautiful water and nature all around us, yet the idea of banning plastic bags and straws is a foreign subject to a large majority of people, even people that literally have the ocean as their backyard. It becomes very real when you see a sea turtle consuming that plastic bag thinking its a jellyfish, finding and cutting hundreds of feet of discarded fishing line wrapped around beautiful corals, when sea birds are collecting straws and plastic shards to feed to their young, and the list goes on, sadly.
When I first moved here, on my days off from teaching scuba, I would take my dog down to the beach and do solo cleanups just walking up and down the shoreline; I would often have people ask me what I was doing, some would say "thanks", and some would come up and hand me some random trash they found. When I teach the classroom portion of scuba diving to brand new divers, I talk about avoiding single-use plastics, the importance of reef-safe sunscreen and respecting wildlife. I would have a lot of conversations regarding these topics with two very close friends that I met through my dive shop, Scuba Network, and what we could do to educate more people. The Trashy Girls Collective was formed in April of 2019 with those two friends, Bess and Kristina, a few days after my birthday and I had been raising money for a fundraiser through Shark Allies to ban the shark fin trade in Florida. I was so overwhelmed and amazed by the amount of support I was getting from friends, but also people within the scuba diving/ocean community on Facebook and Instagram that were essentially strangers. Social media platforms have expedited globalization in an unprecedented way. The megaphone such platforms have given to environmental consciousness is immeasurable. However, with the rise of such global reaching platforms, social and environmental activism can often seem intangible for an individual. I realized that if I could raise awareness and inspire strangers/online friends to donate to banning the shark fin trade, then we collectively could make a big difference locally with raising awareness for the ocean by doing beach/dive cleanups. If we can raise awareness with 10 people, and those people affect another 10 people, we're looking at a lot of power there. Making small changes in your daily life like using a reusable water bottle, reusable tumbler for your coffee and reusable grocery bags, for example, makes a huge impact. Drastic changes are not the only way to make a difference, but if those 100 people we affected make small changes and continue to spread awareness, that's big.
Organizing beach cleanups is easy, as long as they're not massive- just grab some reusable bags, some friends, and go! When they're really big and have lots of attendees, sponsors, and then ultimately figuring out what you're going to do with all of the trash collected, that's when it can get a little complicated. You definitely want to check with your local government on the areas you're planning on cleaning up to make sure you have permits if necessary, and you'd be surprised how many local businesses will support your cause and help you with permits if needed. Having help from other people who have already conducted cleanups, or even teaming up with them, is always great. Reach out to your local Surfrider Foundation, local reef-safe sunscreen companies, local ocean and nature advocates and you will most likely find friendly faces wanting to help and support. Remember, the more hands the better! And for those that do not live on the coasts, people can still make a difference by spearheading efforts to clean up their local watersheds like local rivers and creeks!
The Trashy Girls Collective has taught us a lot about eco-initiatives, how to be effective without exhausting ourselves or spreading ourselves too thin, and our own level of eco-awareness. Every passion project comes directly from just that, passion. It's very easy to confuse something your passionate about as personal, and while spreading awareness positively and trying to educate, you will be faced with adversity and ignorance, as with really any "controversial topic"- breathe it out, and speak your truth without soap-boxing. All it takes is collecting one bag of trash, you'll be amazed at how big of an impact it makes!
The idea of Trashy Girls Collective at its core was an act of thanks from three very grateful divers; three individuals that consider themselves to be beyond lucky to spend their time underwater watching fish swirl around coral, watching Nurse Sharks nap peacefully under the shadows of a reef’s ledge, and moments of pure amazement swimming alongside a majestic Loggerhead turtle. We want people to know that any individual has the power to influence change and we hope that our story inspires others to take that first step.