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Pres Girls Skip the Straw

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A single use plastic straw found wrapped in seaweed on Capitola Beach.

A single use plastic straw found wrapped in seaweed on Capitola Beach.

Hannah Browne

Hannah Browne

A single use plastic straw found wrapped in seaweed on Capitola Beach.

Hannah Browne, Reporter

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The marine biologist examines the olive ridley sea turtle who is having trouble breathing. The turtle appears to have something stuck in his nostril–could it be a worm or a piece of food?

Tugging on the brownish piece of material with pliers, the biologist slowly starts to extract a wrinkled piece of plastic material from the sea turtle’s nostril. The tugging continues for over ten minutes, until she discovers something shocking–a four-inch plastic drinking straw.  

Documented for the world to see, the YouTube video of this amazing rescue has been viewed by over 12 million squeamish viewers, sparking an outcry from conservationists to rid the world of single use plastic straws.

With catchy hashtags like  #skipthestraw, #stopsucking,  and #strawssuck, social media is helping ocean conservationists inspire the world to change behavior and skip the use of single use plastic straws that end up in the 8.8 million tons of plastic entering the world’s oceans every year.

The call to action is supported with published data by conservation giants such as National Geographic that have documented the use and disposal of 500 million single use plastic straws by Americans on a daily basis. Straws are not making it into the recycle bin; instead they are thrown away and quickly dispersed into the environment because of their light weight, frequently ending up in the ocean.

Data published from the Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Beach Cleanup Day shows plastic straws as one of the  top five pollutants, with volunteers picking up over 439,000 plastic straws from beaches on a single day. While seagulls and other shore birds snack on the shiny, brightly colored straws on land, marine life nibble on them when the straws make their way into the ocean. Most animals are not as lucky as the sea turtle in the video, dying painful deaths when the straws get stuck in their stomachs, intestines, and breathing passages.  

With these alarming statistics, conservationists are gaining momentum to combat the plastic pollution crisis. Nineteen of the top aquariums in the United States have recently joined forces as the Aquarium Conservation Partnership to curb the behavior of their 20 million visitors, hoping for the same level of success with plastic pollution that the Seafood Watch program has had with consumers making smarter choices about fish consumption.

According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Conservation & Science division, “The goal of the consumer outreach campaign is for aquariums to work together to help increase consumer demand for alternatives to single-use plastic in order to accelerate the development of alternatives in the marketplace.” The Monterey Bay Aquarium has phased out plastic in their cafeteria–including plastic straws–making conservation happen on a real-time basis.

In our own backyard, we still have some work to do on this issue. On the positive side, Presentation encourages students to use refillable water containers by not selling single use plastic water bottles. However, plastic straws were spotted in the Center last week.

When brought to the attention of administrators at Presentation that the Center was supplying plastic straws, Lisa Brunolli, VP of Student Services, made the commitment to join the skip the straw movement: “I look forward to working with our food service to eliminate the use of straws in the Center.”

It is grassroots efforts like these that make a difference in the community and change behavior one action at a time. Inspired by the Girl Scout America Gold Award, which challenges Scouts to develop take actions projects that have an impact in their communities, teen Shelby O’Neil founded Jr Ocean Guardians, and began her journey to help save the ocean. Her latest consumer challenge is called No Straw November.

O’Neil said, “The overall goal is to start a conversation about the importance of minimizing single use plastic as much as possible while encouraging others.” The movement challenges consumers to refuse plastic straws for the entire month of November. By logging onto www.jroceanguardians.org, a tally can be kept of how many straws are eliminated from potentially being ocean contaminants. Instagram pictures can be tagged with #nostrawnovember.

Asking consumers to skip the straw is not seen as a radical request by conservationists.  Straws are essentially a luxury item, rarely necessary except for medical reasons. In most cases, consumers receive straws without even asking.

The Presentation SEAS club plans to join the movement and promote skipping the straw. “We plan on going to restaurants that serve straws. We can actually go in and ask them about it and leave a business card which we would like to give to our members,” says Alana DeLaTorre, VP of SEAS.

Getting consumers to change their behavior is easier than getting corporations to change. O’Neil has spoken to Starbucks, Costco, Farmer Brothers Coffee, and large foundations about reducing plastic pollution. While she has had some success with getting one Costco store to change their plastic coffee stirrers to wood, the biggest impact will come from the restaurant and beverage industry that has remained relatively silent on the issue. Getting Starbucks to change its image to one without its iconic green plastic straw is not going to be easy.

The conservationists are watching and very publicly keeping track of merchants making the commitment to rid the world of plastic straws. The LastPlasticStraw.org website highlights many champions of the cause. Even changing from plastic to biodegradable paper straws has a huge environmental effect, and is applauded by conservationists. Several restaurants in the Monterey Bay area, including the InterContinental’s C Restaurant have made the change to paper straws to the delight of their conservationist minded customers.

The challenge with any movement that inspires change is to find a way to make people care. The YouTube video of the sea turtle with a plastic straw in his nostril did that for many people. Conservationists want to keep that image fresh in people’s minds, continue the discussion and encourage change.

How can you help? Refuse to have a plastic straw in your Starbucks drink. Join Presentation SEAS members on September 16 at International Beach Cleanup Day. Use social media to inspire the world to change behavior and skip the use of single use plastic straws. Hashtag everything. It will make a difference. This is the last straw.

#presgirlsskipthestraw #nostrawnovember #skipthestraw

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2 Comments

2 Responses to “Pres Girls Skip the Straw”

  1. Eric Barajas on September 15th, 2017 9:03 am

    So THRILLED to see youth taking actions for their planet! Please continue spreading awareness and action to us old folks so that we may change our ways.

    [Reply]

  2. Mark Egeland on September 15th, 2017 9:10 pm

    Great piece, Hannah. From now on I’ll skip the straw, thank you very much!!

    [Reply]

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