Event celebrates oceans, raises awareness of plastic pollution
Visitors to the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge had the opportunity to take part in upcycled crafts, watch plastic-related documentaries and more for the first-ever World Oceans Day.
Today, the refuge provided a mix of activities – for free – in recognition of the global day aimed at celebrating the oceans and raising awareness. This year’s theme was preventing plastic pollution.
“We’re really surprised,” Conservation Educator Sara Hallas said of the public response.
There were make-and-take projects available throughout the day, showings of four films with open discussions and a book signing with author Charles LeBuff, a former refuge biologist who started the sea turtle program on the islands. The day kicked off with a morning beach walk at the Perry Tract.
“The turnout was wonderful,” she said of all of the activities.
Peter Wendler, of Cincinnati, Ohio, stopped by with his son, Beckett, 9. He explained that the family was on their last day of vacation and they decided to swing in to see what the refuge was about.
“I think it’s great what they’ve got going on,” Wendler said of the special programs.
He added that the oceans are an important resource.
“We’ve got a serious problem with plastic pollution,” Wendler said.
Beckett pointed out that he has seen videos and photos of sea life being choked by plastic and dying after eating it. He said preventing plastic from getting into the ocean is important to protect them.
“A lot of animals are getting trapped, like sea turtles,” Beckett said.
In an effort to be part of the solution, the family tries to use recycled materials whenever they can. Beckett explained that he relies on reusable containers for his lunch and uses reusable straws.
“We try to keep a good handle on the plastic we use,” Wendler said.
Wendi Hill, of Indiana, discovered the World Oceans Day event and activities when she and her daughters – Harley, 18, and Reagan, 11 – decided to take a break from the sun and sand.
“We thought this would be a cool little stop away from the ocean,” she said of the refuge.
Harley noted that she is interested in conservation, wildlife and the environment.
“I definitely think it’s an amazing opportunity for people to learn more and, hopefully, use that to conserve and educate others,” she said of the special programming planned for the day.
Reagan agreed that reducing pollution and protecting the ocean is important.
“So the animals don’t go extinct,” she said.
While the family reuses shopping bags, avoids using plastic bottles and does its part when it comes to recycling – even bothering the neighbors about it – Hill noted that she learned something new.
“That little piece of plastic in a styrofoam cup is something you wouldn’t have thought of,” she said, referring to plastic straws and their impact on the planet.
Seasonal residents Dave and Susan Musselman stopped by with their grandchildren, 11-year-old Taylor and 9-year-old Danny Hodge. They explained that keeping pollution out of the ocean is important.
“So the animals don’t die from sickness,” Danny said.
“If it keeps happening, animals are going to go extinct,” Taylor said.
“We should protect everything in the ocean, except for the garbage,” Danny added.
The Musselmans noted that the activities got the children off their cell phones and learning.
“It’s their future world,” Dave Musselman said. “If they and we don’t protect it, it might not be here.”
Susan Musselman called the World Oceans Day event a great idea.
“I’m glad we came today,” she said. “It’s good for them to be aware of it.”
During the day, the refuge’s “anti-plastic” film festival featured “STRAWS,” “Addicted to Plastic,” “Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch” and “Bag It: Is Your Life Too Plastic?”
“We talked about different solutions and alternatives to plastic,” Hallas said.
For “STRAWS,” the first 50 people received a free, reusable stainless steel straw.
During one of the discussions following one film, a visitor explained that he writes on the back of restaurant receipts kept by the venues that they should only provide plastic straws upon request.
“It’s something so simple,” she said.
One woman, who was celebrating her 50th birthday, was inspired by the day’s events.
“She wants to go to the beach and pick up 50 pieces of garbage,” Hallas said.
Refuge officials are hoping to make World Oceans Day an annual event.
Hallas noted that the staff is looking at additional recognized days it can plan activities for.
“We’ll probably be doing some more stuff,” she said.
For more information, call 239-472-1100 or visit www.fws.gov/refuge/jn_ding_darling.
The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge is at 1 Wildlife Drive, Sanibel.