“I won’t stop as our beaches need me.”

By Marisa Spyker
Courtesy of Pat Smith/Final Straw Cornwall

If you, like many others, made a New Year’s Resolution this year, there’s a good chance by now that you haven’t kept it. But in 2018, Pat Smith was one of the devoted few—and the ocean is now all the better for it.

Early last year, the grandmother from Cornwall, England, made a pact with herself to clean one beach a week for the entirety of the year—52 beaches total. From January through December, during family holidays and on Mother’s Day, Smith toted trash bags and rubber gloves to shorelines all over Southern England, sometimes with her young grandkids in tow and others with a team of ocean-loving helpers.

Courtesy of Pat Smith/Final Straw Cornwall

Smith’s quest to clean up 52 beaches first started after learning of hordes of plastic that washed up on a local beach following a major storm. “In two hours I collected two black bags full of tiny fragments of plastic detritus which the ocean had spat back at us,” she shared on social media.

And that first haul barely scratched the surface of what she would later find. Smith’s 51 consecutive cleanups would rake in dozens of bags and boxes filled to the brim with everything from fishing waste to everyday trash, including plastic bottles, bags, coffee cups and cigarette butts. In a single cleanup, Smith (with a small team) collected as many as nine full bags of garbage; on another day, the 70-year-old scooped up 563 pieces of garbage in the span of 90 minutes on her own.

In total, Smith estimates the trash collected to be a 50-50 split between waste discarded from fishing boats and everyday items tossed aside by people. “These things are used by all of us and it’s shocking to find them polluting our beautiful beaches,” Smith says.

Courtesy of Pat Smith/Final Straw Cornwall

Smith, a longtime ocean lover who founded Cornwall’s Final Straw initiative to encourage local businesses and citizens to curb plastic straw use, hopes her beach cleaning efforts inspire others to be more mindful of the items they use and throw away—and, of course, to spread the beach cleaning bug around.

“Anyone can do this when they are out and about—dog walking, fitness walking, jogging, or enjoying the fresh air,” she says. “It is surprising how few people do though; most don’t even seem to notice the rubbish anymore. [If everyone followed] #threeforthesea and picked up just three items of rubbish on each walk to the beach, what a difference it would make!”

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