The Beach Keeper

This summer I’ve been waking up early and heading down the beach to start my day with a morning swim. Thinking about Our Earth Every Day’s “5 Good Deeds”, I guess you could say it’s been my way of doing a daily good deed for myself. It’s such a peaceful time when I can enjoy a quiet moment mostly alone, appreciating the beauty of the sea, the birds flying overhead, feeling refreshed by a swim in the cool, salty waves.

On the path through the eucalyptus trees that leads onto the beach, there is a little shelter which looks like it’s made of recycled wood. Some colorful tapestries are hung on one side for walls and a few beach chairs sit by a little camp cooking area. Every morning I see a man who walks down from this shelter to the shore. He looks like he’s in his late 50’s-early 60’s, shoulder length silver-grey hair, always in his swim trunks. For several days I watched as he walked along the water with a work glove on one hand, carrying a plastic bucket, bending down to collect things. As I continued my morning swims throughout the week, I realized that he did this ritual every day.

It’s a level of thoughtfulness and commitment that’s not something you see every day. If we consider the 5 Good Deeds, he does a daily good deed in almost every category – for the earth, for others, for friends, and for himself.

On one day the the Beach Keeper was collecting trash a little closer to where I sat on my towel. I noticed a bottle cap near me, picked it up, said hello and plunked it in his bucket. I thanked him for all he was doing to keep the beach clean. He said his name was Salvo. We talked about how sad and frustrating it is that people are so unconscious about polluting the beach. He gave me a big smile and said he also cleans the little eucalyptus grove on the way in because people leave trash there too.

Since then I decided to make a point of collecting a few pieces of trash on my way in and back to the car. It takes me almost no extra time and is a tiny gesture compared to what Salvo does every single day. In fact I’d bet that over time his steady daily efforts could make a far greater impact than many of the “one day a year” group clean up initiatives.

Most of us have seen the disturbing images of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or sea animals and birds caught in plastic trash. The ocean pollution statistics are overwhelming. There are 5 garbage patches around the world. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch alone includes an estimated 1.8 trillion pieces of trash and covers an area twice the size of Texas. 70 percent of ocean garbage actually sinks to the sea floor, meaning we’re unlikely to ever be able to clean it up.

Much of the garbage is not just tossed by thoughtless individuals, but also created by industrial pollution. But despite the enormity of the problem, many organizations and individuals are working hard to help reverse ocean and beach pollution. Each of us becoming more mindful and educating our children to pick up after ourselves is a good start. If you live near a beach there is likely a clean up group or event you can join. And you can always take a lesson from Salvo the Beach Keeper by taking a moment to pick up just a few items of trash whenever you visit a beach. It’s our collective mindlessness that has contributed to this issue, but it’s our small, collective, positive actions that can help shift the tide.

Salvo made a message on the sand with large stones which form the word “Pace” (Peace). He placed a little sign next to it so people wouldn’t disturb his creation. It reads:

Please do not touch
“Peace” belongs to everybody
Let’s respect it
Actually, let’s build it together.

Here are a few excellent organizations working to educate people and clean up ocean pollution. If this issue resonates with you, they offer some great ways you can get involved in keeping our beaches and seas clean:

Trash Free Seas – The Ocean Conservancy

This 5 Good Deed Story was contributed by Michelle Cavallaro – Marina di Cottone, Sicily