In Loren Eisley's tale, The Star Thrower, which I used to read to young students in school, a small boy was scooping up starfish stranded by a receding tide and throwing them back into the sea. The doomed starfish stretched along the beach for as far as one could see, and in the story, a passerby asked the boy why he was doing it since it was impossible to save them all. The boy tossed another starfish back and said, "It made a difference to that one." This is a good way to think about how small things can bring about positive change.
Last month I wrote about our neighbor, Porter Pushinsky, a ten-year-old who gathered friends and strangers to clean up our local waterway. According to conservationists working to protect marine wildlife, the benefits extend downstream as well since trash travels.
Regina Asmutis-Silvia, the Executive Director at Whale & Dolphin Conservation, North America describes the death of a sperm whale a few years ago off the coast of Virginia. During the necropsy, scientists discovered that its stomach had been sliced open by a broken DVD case. "If someone had picked that up, and the whale didn't eat it, that whale would be alive," she says. "These things do matter."
So yes, we know that the plastics littering our streets miles from the nearest ocean get washed into storm drains. And we know that when it rains, the trash flows down streams and rivers to the sea. And we know that we break this cycle if we pick it up and dispose of it. But did you ever imagine you might be saving a whale?
"Everybody has a role to play, including the individual person—in limiting the amount of plastics that we use and purchase," says Jenna Reynolds, president of Save Coastal Wildlife. "If we could reuse plastics, or just look for alternatives that would be great."
But make no mistake, marine wildlife also needs some big things. In addition to a world less polluted by plastic, they need boats and ships to slow down sometimes. They need the rapid adoption of advanced fishing gear, which doesn't involve dangling lines that entangle them. Conservationists working to save the highly endangered right whale from extinction—there are only between 300-350 remaining—are urging us to do more.
We must remember that small things really do drive the big things. So pick up that piece of trash. Remember your refillable water bottle. Celebrate special occasions with flowers rather than balloons. Pick up the phone and tell leaders to support wildlife conservation. Join local organizations, and work with others. If you know any boaters, tell them about whalemap.org, which shows where the whales are in real time. Finally, let's talk to one another. Share concerns. Share information.
Maybe a good way to start is by taking a page out of Porter's book and doing a cleanup with friends. By helping wildlife, we'll be helping ourselves since a cleaner environment is good for every living thing. What small actions do you take that make a difference? Please share!