“Each day I move toward that which I do not understand. The result is a continuous accidental learning which constantly shapes my life.” — Yo-Yo Ma

In addition to enjoying spectacular sunrises, moonsets, frothing waves, seabird calls and fresh ocean breezes, consider adding a new dimension to your beach walks: litter pickup.

My wife and I find a certain satisfaction in improving the environment by gathering bits of trash as we stroll along, getting some extra bending, twisting and stooping into our walking routine.

A Galveston park board employee picking up trash laughed as he suggested we might put him out of a job. Not likely, as they pick up as much as 2 million pounds of trash yearly from our local beaches.

We find all kinds of things we likely would have never noticed. There are large numbers of screw-off bottle caps of every color, plastic and paper, cans, bottles, toys, socks, plastic straws, balloons, hair clips, camping gear, fishing lines, food remnants and other assorted nurdles, flotsam and jetsam.

I even found something that, to my doctor’s eye, closely resembled an intrauterine device. I had some interesting reflections on how that might have gotten there, perhaps as part of a re-fertility rite.

In any case, such littered microplastics and microfibers are permeating our environment and entering our food and water supply and then into our bodies, doing us harm.

We pick up as much as we have time for during our exercise strolls. One thing we resist picking up, at least not without a glove on, are the seemingly infinite numbers of cigarette butts. Many smokers, already self-polluting their bodies with tobacco’s addicting, health-harming properties further add to environmental pollution by tossing their filters in the sand. A volunteer of the Turtle Island Restoration Network on a short walk from 61st Street to The Pleasure Pier picked up more than 1,200 cigarette butts.

One estimate was that these butts take about 500 years of sun, surf and water to fully degrade. I can imagine some future archeologist discovering masses of these embedded in fossilized sand and wondering their origin and purpose.

Joanie Steinhaus, the program director with the Turtle Island Restoration Network in Galveston, works with her team to protect endangered marine species — especially the state sea turtle, the Kemp’s ridley. She has documented the devastating effects of trash on our turtle population.

Because of circulation of currents, trash dumped anywhere in the Gulf of Mexico may end up on Texas beaches. The Texas Adopt-A-Beach program is an all-volunteer program dedicated to preserving and protecting Texas beaches. Its success comes from generous volunteers, county coordinators, coastal community leaders, sponsors and private citizens.

You can do your part by never tossing litter or butts out of the car window onto the roadways and by not leaving things behind on the beach. If you wouldn’t throw it on your home’s front step, keep it for proper disposal.

Remember: “Don’t Mess With Texas!” Always take your butts with you. “In the Can, Not the Sand.”

Dr. Victor S. Sierpina is the WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine and Professor of Family Medicine at UTMB.


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(2) comments

Joanie Steinhaus

Thank you Dr. Sierpina for your column today. Perfect timing as we are working the the Galveston Chapter of Surfrider to install cigarette butt-lers on the piers today. We will install additional cans around the island and. if a business or individual would like to sponsor one, please reach out to Turtle Island Restoration Network's Galveston team.

Ted Gillis

You’re dreaming if you think a cigarette smoker gives a damn about what happens to their discarded filter butts. These people are the worst that society has to offer us. Heck, even a child knows to hang on to a popsicle stick until they git to a trash can. I think I’ll borrow a Hillary Clinton term and just call them all deplorables.

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