#GreatNature: Protect the Great Nature that You Love

This post was written by Tara Treiber, Education Director for Heal the Bay. Heal the Bay is a Los Angeles-based non-profit focused on the protection of coastal waters and watersheds. We’re sharing National Geographic staff and friends’ stories about nature to celebrate the Great Nature Project. To share your own nature photos of plants and animals with National Geographic, visit greatnatureproject.org. 

When people ask me how I got to be a trained marine biologist, ecologist, and teacher who serves as Education Director for Heal the Bay, a Los Angeles-based environmental non-profit, my stock answer always is, “I wanted to be a mermaid, and marine biologist was the closest I could get.”

While there is a bit of tongue-in-cheek truth to that comment, I have always loved the ocean, ever since I knew there was an ocean to love. My parents tell an anecdote of the first time they took me to the beach at less than a year old, setting me down on the sand, thinking they’d have time to get everything situated. Little did they know, I was  already half way down the beach, running on my little toddler legs, desperate to reach the water.

Since those early days, the ocean and nature have been a source of great joy for me. There is nothing like the power of the waves crashing on a beach to calm you when you’re crazed; restore you when you’re spent; or even to help you mend a broken heart. As a marine educator, a good part of my life has been spent, not only trying to share that power with others, but also trying to help protect that ocean, so that it can continue to fulfill those roles in the future.

Photograph courtesy Heal the Bay

Photograph courtesy Heal the Bay

Coastal Cleanup Day is one of those days that everyone can get involved with to help protect the nature they love. Coastal Cleanup Day is an international event, coordinated by the Ocean Conservancy with events on shorelines in countries all over the world! While it’s associated with the ocean, cleanups occur along lakes, rivers, and streams, giving people the opportunity to cleanup and protect the  spaces and nature that they love. Plastic pollution is one of the biggest scourges of our time, and anthropologists joke that when future civilizations perform archeological digs to learn more about this era, we will be defined by the plastic trash we’re leaving behind. That’s such a scary thought!

Plastics and other types of trash can hurt animals by ingestion, starvation, entanglement, and drowning (Clean Water Action, The Problem of Marine Plastic Pollution.  Animals that try to eat our trash, which often resembles their food items in the natural world, can choke on our debris, or fill up with it so that they do not feel hungry, causing them to starve because they just don’t eat. Animals can also become entangled in our trash, with it literally cutting into their bodies, causing deadly infections, or they can be held underwater and drowned by the debris. There is also some evidence that animals, like fish, who ingest plastic are also getting a side dose of other toxic chemicals, which can then be passed along to whomever eats them – even humans!

As terrible as all of this sounds, there is a simple solution we’ve all heard before: We can all reduce, reuse, and recycle the plastics we use everyday to ensure they stay OUT of the environment, and we can clean up the plastic that makes its way TO the environment. These actions will help protect the nature you love, whether that nature is the ocean and the shore, the tree around the corner, or your own backyard.

While you’re out helping with Coastal Cleanup Day on Saturday or in the coming week, you help Heal the Bay and National Geographic celebrate the nature you love by taking pictures and tagging them with #greatnatureproject, @NatGeo, #protectwhatyoulove, #ccd2013, and @HealtheBay.  Nature is all around us, and the magical moments it brings are just waiting to be found. Help record these moments as a part of The Great Nature Project!

For more information about Los Angeles County Coastal Cleanup Day events, check out www.healthebay.org/ccd, or join me just north of the Santa Monica Pier this Saturday, September 21st at 9 am.

By: Tara Treiber, Education Director for Heal the Bay

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