Brazoria County beaches are home to many things, but trash and litter continue to pile up on the shore and threaten wildlife despite local officials many efforts to clean up and educate residents. But not all trash is the fault of beachgoers.
According to multiple local experts, plastic tends to be the worst contributor to littered beaches.
Mike Mullenweg, Lead Interpretive Ranger of the Brazoria County Parks Department, said plastic is such a problem because it never really goes away and impacts all forms of wildlife.
“A large number of animals are affected by plastic, especially in the ocean,” Mullenweg said.
Being so close to the ocean, it is important to keep in mind that trash tends to find its way into waterways, making them receptacles for discarded plastic, Brazoria County Parks Director Bryan Frazier said.
Problematic plastic can come in the form of balloons, plastic bottles and fishing line. Animals tend to eat plastic litter because of curiosity and the way the colors and shapes tend to mimic their dietary preferences, according to Quintana Beach County Park Manager Patty Brinkmeyer.
Pale yellow plastic bottles that read “Vinagre” on the side are very prominent on nearby beaches, Brinkmeyer said. The color attracts sea turtles, and more often than not, she said she and her team find diamond-shaped holes where turtles have snapped at them. These bottles come all the way from Haiti, according to Brinkmeyer.
Frazier notes three primary sources of litter: discarded items that make their way down rivers and other waterways, trash that washes in from the Gulf of Mexico and items that people simply leave behind.
So not all local litter is from reckless Texans. Brinkmeyer pointed out that 80 to 90 percent of the litter found on Brazoria County beaches comes from offshore sources.
That is not to say that there is not a problem with trash being left behind. The wildlife refuge’s biggest problem is fishing gear left behind in the fishing area according to Tom Schneider, a Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge employee.
Out of everything, fishing line tends to have the worst effect on marine life in this area. Animals eat it and get tangled up in it, Mullenweg said.
Dana Simon, founder of the Gulf Coast Wildlife Rescue, noted that in her years of experience with animals, monofilament fishing line does the most harm to wildlife. It has the ability to kill over and over again she said.
According to data presented by Texas Adopt a Beach, monofilament fishing line can take up to 600 years to breakdown. So what gets left behind today can last lifetimes.
There is no reason any fishing line should be left behind, especially considering there are designated fishing line recycling stations at the Wildlife Refuge and on the beach, according to Schneider and Frazier.
There are other things citizens can do to help, Brinkmeyer said. People can find alternatives to releasing balloons at events. She said she suggests blowing bubbles. Reusable water bottles and straws are a good way to help out too, according to Brinkmeyer.
She also suggests visitors going out of their way to pick up trash, even if it doesn’t belong to them.
On Sept. 21, the Brazoria County Parks Department will host a beach cleanup on Surfside and Quintana, beaches according to Mullenweg. The event is from 9 a.m. to noon.
Frazier said that there is a ridiculous amount of trash picked up every year at the event.
“Litter is a pronounced problem from every aspect,” Frazier said.
Litter is still a major problem but as more and more campaigns display it as a prominent issue, changes will be made for the better, Frazier said.