The cliff paths and beaches of Hermanus were awash on Saturday morning with more than 600 conservation-minded school children and adults who jointly collected nearly one ton of trash in the Big Ocean Cleanup.

Organised by the SA Shark Conservancy (SASC), the initiative lasted two hours and covered the coastline from the New Harbour to Grotto beach, as well as Hoy’s Koppie. Kim Maclean of Sharklady Adventures was one of a number of scuba and free divers who donned diving gear and collected 40 kg of rubbish alone from the waters of the new and old harbours.

“A total of 634 recorded participants collected 800 kg of rubbish: that’s 1.2kg per person,” enthused Meaghen McCord Gray, SASC founder. “Jacques van Niekerk of Walker Bay Recycling received all the rubbish, 67% of which is recyclable!”

Hermanus Primary School won the R10 000 prize on offer for collecting the most rubbish, while Qhayiya Secondary School scooped the second prize of R4 000 for bringing the most children – around 300 from Qhayiya alone.
“What a sense of community spirit and commitment for positive change! … We cannot thank our community, conservation friends and schools enough for participating in the #BigOceanCleanup,” wrote Meaghen on the SASC’s Facebook page. She said the highlight for her was the large number of children who gave up their Saturday morning to take part. “Their spirit was amazing, as was their passion for cleaning! The donations we received from local businesses were also much appreciated.”

Meaghen thanked the SASC’s partners, sponsors and supporters “for being part of this totally amazing initiative”, including the following local NGOs and business: Coastal Cleanup Conservation Trust, #seathebiggerpicture, Whale Coast Conservation, Walkerbay Adventures, Sharklady Adventures, Majestic Cruising, Bientang’s Cave, Walker Bay Recycling and I am Water Ocean Conservation.

While Meaghen had anticipated 150 participants, she was happily surprised to find more than double that came to the cleanup party. There were also individual prizes to motivate the volunteer trash collectors, such as a whale-watching voucher for two, a stuffed southern right whale, a whale print and a bottle of Kronig champagne prize for the best-dressed child and parent.

“For the past four years, the SA Shark Conservancy has been conducting a marine debris research project focused on micro- and macro-plastics on blue flag and non-blue flag beaches in the Overstrand,” said Meaghen. “The Big Ocean Cleanup builds on this project and aims to unify all stakeholders and raise awareness about marine pollution.”

Meaghen encouraged interested parties to download the Marine Tracker app for Android or iPhone. “This will allow you to continually contribute to a real-time global study on marine debris run by the NOAA Marine Debris Program.”

She added that they will definitely look at having another similar big cleanup in the near future, although she noted that ‘coastal sheriff’ Antonio de Silva-Swart, who runs the NGO Coastal Clean Up Conservation Trust, organises regular cleanups along the Overberg coast on a monthly basis. He can be contacted on 072 462 4274 or via the group’s Facebook page.

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