No. 38 Volunteer to Clear Plastic from the Ocean

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My bucket list item number 38 was to help clear plastic from the ocean and I completed this one in October 2021. Here’s the story of how I helped Clean Green Andros to clear plastic from the sea.

Original Plans to Help Clean Up the Ocean

When I wrote my 50-before-50 list I had in mind something like helping The Ocean Clean Up team. Not necessarily that organisation but a similar sort of project.

I didn’t have a specific plan of how what or when. But I did think this would happen somewhere further afield. Perhaps somewhere that rivers are actually entirely plastic, all water bottles and waste.

Anyway, it sat on my list which I reviewed again in August 2021.

Ateni Beach Andros

Cleaning the Greek Islands

When I saw this on my list I thought about whether I could cross it off in August. Since I’ve been in Greece I’ve been cleaning up litter as I move from island to island. I was quite taken aback at how much people litter here.

Anyway, as I travelled to Mykonos and Santorini it was much worse. Of course, the wind doesn’t help in this group of islands and tourism is a big factor here too. But it was really disappointing to see. So I started clearing up small patches as I went. I joined a Greek Facebook group with like-minded people so we can share what we’re doing and encourage each other.

Formally Crossing Off this Bucket List Item

But, I decided I wanted a more formal way of ticking this one off the list. I still wasn’t quite sure what that would look like. But I was realising that actually there was a need to support this in a way that was much closer to home. There’s a real problem with litter and plastic waste on these small islands, right where I already was.

I kept my eyes peeled for any opportunities to do this bucket list item on the Greek islands. It wasn’t long before I saw an advert in a Facebook group from the Cyclades Preservation Fund. They had opportunities for volunteers to help with projects on Naxos and Andros islands.

Zorkos Beach Andros

Working with Clean Green Andros

I applied for projects on both Andros and Naxos. On the application, I explained that I wanted to help clear plastic from the ocean for my bucket list. And, the Andros project seemed like a great way to formally mark this off since I was heading there in autumn anyway.

Luckily I was accepted onto the project with Clean Green Andros. So, after my housesit in Athens, I moved to Andros for 5 weeks and spent 2.5 of them volunteering with this organisation.

Clean Green Andros is the little sister to Andros Routes which documents, cleans and maintains the hiking paths across the island. The big vision for Clean Green Andros is to make it a zero-waste island. The project is in its infancy and has a lot of work ahead of it. It’s privately run although the group tries to work in conjunction with the municipality and recycling subcontractors.

Beach Clean Ups on Andros

I did a variety of tasks during my time volunteering on Andros. There were quite a few beach clean-ups which was a really direct way of taking plastic out of the sea. Some of the plastics and other litter on the beaches had washed in with the tide. We could tell from the labels on food packaging that some had been washed over from neighbouring Turkey.

A lot of the beach waste was debris from the fishing industry and some had obviously been left by people visiting the beaches. Masks, plastic water bottles and plastic coffee cups were things I found a lot of as well as various bits of fishing nets and glowsticks that the fishermen use.

However, other items were coming from inland. Historically, Greek people on the islands have thrown waste into the river to be carried out to sea. In the past, it wasn’t really an issue. Everything was made from natural fibres that would rot or biodegrade in the water. But over time, we’ve obviously started using more and more plastic and other man-made fabrics.

So, the practice continues, but with a different outcome. On the beaches where the rivers came down from the hills and fed into the sea, there was a lot of plastic rubbish from the villages.

Communicating with the Locals

Because of this, the Clean Green team are working hard to inform the islanders of the recycling facilities on the island. Some people aren’t aware of them at all. Others know there are recycling bins but don’t believe anything actually gets recycled.

One of the things I was tasked with was interviewing people from the island. I spoke to a variety of people in different situations: some from the island, some with second homes there, people who live on Andros all year round and some who just come for the summer.

The intention was to hear what people knew about recycling and waste disposal on the island. And it was an opportunity for us to tell them about things they wanted to know.

Facilitating Recycling on Andros

The Clean Green Team are obviously keen to encourage Androtians to recycle as much as possible. In terms of this, I helped by auditing the island’s recycling bins. I added their locations to a map that will be available on a website for the islanders. And I replaced stickers on any that were missing them, to help people see easily what items could be put in each bin.

Nurdle Hunting

One of the other tasks I did was go nurdle hunting. This was new to me and quite interesting to learn about!

Nurdles are lentil-shaped bits of plastic used in the plastic industry. They’re so tiny and light the wind can blow them away as they’re transported. They get into the water system and end up in the sea with lots of other bits of microplastics. Fish eat them thinking it’s food and then feel full so don’t eat proper food and starve. The nurdles also collect toxins and can carry e-coli so they’re all-around bad news.

There are billions of them in the water and there’s not really anything you can do about the existing ones. But a Scottish company is collecting data about where the nurdles are found, in what quantity and what the weather conditions etc are like. They’re using this information to try and narrow down the companies responsible and get them to take ownership of the problem before it gets worse.

If you also want to help clear plastic from the ocean this is a really easy way to do it if you live near the coast.

Admin Support

As well as these practical tasks I also helped with some back-office stuff. I helped the team create new email templates so they could keep in touch with supporters and interested parties.

I gave suggestions of ways they could fundraise and how they could get the local community on board so that everyone was involved.

Overall it was a varied couple of weeks with some sitting down behind the computer, some rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty and some getting out about in nature.

Another Item Down

And so, that’s the tale of how I crossed off volunteering to help clear plastic from the ocean. (And yes, I know it was technically the sea and not the ocean, but it felt like the right way to help to do what I wanted to do.)

I had a great time working with the team on the island and getting to know Andros. It’s a great island for hikers and nature lovers. I will definitely be going back there as it’s such a beautiful place. If you want to see more pictures of the island you can see them over on my Greek island hopping blog.

Suzie Young

Suzie writes informative posts for solo, nervous or first-time travellers to Greece, Turkey and other countries on her 50-before-50 bucket list. She became a Greek resident in 2020 and intends to visit every inhabited island (13 down!).

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