What is a beach?
A beach is the shoreline of a body of water with sand, pebbles or stones. Types of beaches vary greatly, especially depending on location. When we think of a beach, most of us imagine a wide ocean beach with sand, aquatic plants, and dunes in the background where waves crash, the wind blows, and seagulls fly overhead.
However, the United States also has beaches in urban areas, estuaries, lagoons, lakes, and rivers. The beach is also a delicate environment that is home to a variety of plants and animals.
Why are beaches important?
Beaches offer many recreational opportunities for millions of people. Those who go to the beach enjoy sailing, fishing, swimming, walking, collecting objects, bird watching, playing and sunbathing, and other activities. Beaches serve as protection for residents living by the sea, as they provide protection from strong winds and waves caused by storms or rough seas.
Beaches also play an important role in the economy. Enjoying ocean beaches is one of the fastest growing outdoor recreation activities in the United States. According to the 2008 National Recreation and Environment Survey, about 42% of people age 16 and older visit an ocean beach each year.
Shoreline pollution limits the economic, recreational, and aesthetic uses of beaches. Pollution also degrades and destroys unique animal and plant habitats on beaches. Pollution can come from direct discharges, trash, or other sources in coastal basins that drain onto the beach.
Improper use of beaches can lead to gradual habitat degradation. Too much foot traffic can destroy dunes and destroy vegetation. Vessel traffic near the shore can also cause beach erosion due to wave action.
Coastal and ocean environments, such as beaches, are especially vulnerable to climate change. Sea level rise is a problem that is already affecting coasts and oceans. Coastal habitats such as beaches, wetlands, and estuaries are at risk of flooding or erosion and may lose their ability to sustain themselves if sea level rise continues to accelerate.
Human Health at the Beach
Swimming on beaches with contaminated water or sand can cause illness. Children, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems are more likely to contract disease or infection from contact with contaminated water while swimming.
Most swimmers are exposed to waterborne pathogens when they swallow water. The most common disease we can contract from swimming in sewage contaminated water is gastroenteritis. This disease comes in many forms and can manifest itself with one or more of the following symptoms: nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, headache or fever. Just contact of contaminated water with the skin or eyes can cause infection. On rare occasions, swimmers can get diseases or infections if they have an open wound that comes into contact with contaminated water. You are at less risk of getting sick if you walk or swim with your head out of the water.
Fortunately, while swimming-related illnesses are unpleasant, they are usually not very serious; some require no or only simple treatment, usually show rapid improvement after treatment and have no long-term health consequences. However, it’s not just at the beach when we swim that we can get infected. An improperly chilled lunch can lead to food poisoning, which has some of the same symptoms as swimming-related illnesses, including abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Pay attention to closures, warning and caution signs on the beach. In areas that are not regularly monitored, it is better to swim in areas with less development and better water circulation, such as ocean beaches. Avoid swimming at beaches where gutters are visible after heavy rain, or at city beaches.
Pollutants on beaches
For example, we can cite discharges during wet seasons from pipes due to excess precipitation, which include sewage, mixed sewage discharges, and domestic wastewater discharges.
Rainwater or snowmelt flows over the ground, picking up materials such as chemicals, sediment, and pollutants such as gasoline, motor oil, antifreeze, fertilizers, pesticides, metals, and bacteria in their path, which end up in storm drains. streams and eventually on beaches and in the ocean.
On the other hand, overflowing of the combined sewers that collect rain, domestic and industrial wastewater and transport it to the treatment plant can occur during heavy rains when the volume of wastewater collected may exceed the capacity of the wastewater. system or treatment plant and thus result in the discharge of said excess wastewater directly into nearby streams, rivers or other bodies of water.
In turn, sanitary overflows (a mixture of untreated, industrial and rainwater) can be caused by unintentional discharges from sewer systems in situations of blockages or system failures (e.g., due to overloads).
Waste and garbage on beaches
The accumulation of trash and debris, among which plastic waste, microplastics , bottles, cans, cigarette butts, corks and lids stand out. This waste can end up on beaches in two other ways: either without being properly treated and carried by rainwater into sewers, rivers and streams and into the ocean, or by visitors themselves getting directly onto the beaches.
In this other EcologíaVerde article, you can learn more about garbage pollution, its causes and consequences .
Dumped into the sea from ships
Accidental or intentional discharges from recreational and commercial vessels start in the ocean or sea, but many end up on beaches, impacting various ecosystems. Discharges from boats include, but are not limited to, food waste, fishing gear (nets, ropes, etc.), water ballast, shower and sink water, or antifouling paint.
Excess nitrogen and other nutrients
There are nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus that are naturally found in aquatic ecosystems and serve to grow algae and aquatic plants, which in turn serve as food and habitat for the fauna of the system. Excesses of these nutrients occur on many coasts and can be linked to anthropogenic activities and cause environmental problems and negative impacts on human health. One of the most important sources of this excess nutrients on beaches is agriculture due to overuse of manure, crop fertilizers, and soil erosion.
Consequences of beach pollution
The consequences of beach pollution are very varied in nature and solutions, as shown below.
Effects on public health: the discharge of sewage into the marine system causes contamination of beaches with the introduction of significant amounts of fecal bacteria, such as members of the genus Enterococcus or the popular Escherichia coli , and creates sources of disease transmission to the public by entry through direct contact with contaminated water or by ingestion of infected organisms (such as fish or shellfish). The symptomatic picture may include colic, gastroenteritis, fever, etc.
Loss of biodiversity: the presence of litter on beaches implies an increased risk that animals living there, such as seabirds, will come into contact with these materials and ingest them. It is estimated that 90% of seabirds consume human waste, a prime example of the global prevalence of anthropogenic pollution in this type of system and in the marine environment in general. In this other article you will find detailed information about biodiversity loss, its causes and consequences.
Cigarette filters, better known as cigarette butts, are made of cellulose acetate. If disposed of improperly, the toxic substances they contain, such as lead, arsenic, tar or ammonia, also remain in the environment. In addition to being harmful to health, they greatly contaminate marine animals and water, and it has even been estimated that a small piece of this waste can contaminate up to 70 liters. So they must have proper recycling so they don’t become one of the world’s top beach pollutants.
Cellulose from filters can be recycled after going through a process that removes the chemicals it contains. Thus, it can be used as paper, insulation and packaging. Eco Filter is a Mexican biotechnology company dedicated to converting these pollutants. They have over 500 collection centers across the country, all you have to do is go to one of them to turn in – bottles, PET filled with cigarette butts. So, if you are a smoker, you have a new challenge with your waste , and if not, you can also cooperate.
The fact that we should not throw trash on the beach or anywhere other than the container is beyond dispute. Garbage thrown outdoors can get on beaches through rain, wind or sewage. Most of the time, the pollution of beaches with trash such as glass, Styrofoam, fabrics, metals, paper and cardboard is due to the improper handling of this waste in and out of the area because believe it or not, it travels easily.
Contamination of beaches with pollutants
It’s important to remember that most trash can be reused or recycled. To do this, we need to do our part from home by helping to separate it, beyond simply separating it into organic and inorganic. Delphinus and Fundación Yepez are some examples of organizations that support ongoing beach cleanup programs. Of course, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it yourself or contribute from home.
These leftovers deserve a special mention because they are a real problem. Almost all of them (90%) are produced by direct transformation of petroleum products. PET bottles have the highest incidence, even though they may be 100% recyclable. In a study last year , Greenpeace determined that Mexico has these types of contaminants from Caribbean and Gulf beaches that come from at least 12 different countries. This is all the more disturbing when it is known that it is increasingly common to see fauna that suffer the consequences, which is 4.4% of marine mammals and 32% of sea turtles that have particles of this waste inside them.
Trash Beach Pollutants.
Mexico is one of the countries with the highest consumption of PET in the world, but it’s also making strides in recycling and is in fourth place behind Germany, China and the European Union. Come to Ecoce and learn how you can contribute through its collection programs.
For cleaner beaches.
With actions that seem small and simple like the ones described above, you can make a difference. In addition, you can also contribute by using biodegradable sunscreen, engaging in sustainable beach recreation, and not removing anything that alters the ecosystem, such as plants or seashells. Taking responsibility for our waste is a necessity, so take action on this issue, all for more days of beach happiness.