Beach cleanups gather momentum | Sunday Observer

Beach cleanups gather momentum

While travelling in North America for 10 weeks I was delighted to receive a call from a reader of my previous articles – one Ms. Ranmali Deva-Adithya – another beach lover, who had called various people mentioned in the articles, including the Dehiwela Mount Lavinia Municipality, to get in contact with me to say she was very interested to organize beach clean ups and wanted information regarding how to go about it. As one would imagine I was only too glad to give this, as this cause is so dear to my heart.

Ocean and beach pollution continues to be in the news, yet, it cannot be spoken of too much. Returning to Sri lanka and resuming my walks on the beach I found the trash on the beach multiplied with the monsoon rains. I felt so helpless and so full of despair.


Reading an article about ocean pollution from India being found in Sri Lanka did not help. As I walked disconsolately on what was such a gloomy morning, I saw a group of girls cleaning the beach. It was as if the sun had burst through and the birds were singing everywhere – my heart leapt with joy. It was organized by the Green Life Program of the recently started Interact Club of St Lawrence’s Convent.

The enthusiasm of these young people to get involved was so heartening. Their Vice President Meleena Bastian informed me that the group had discussed what they could do for a sustainable environment. The focus became the beach as they all loved the beach and got inspiration and mental relaxation from it. Many walked on the beaches around Dehiwala and were dismayed by the pollution to the point of not wanting to go there. At the discussion they realized that they did not do anything to prevent this and how much people, including themselves, neglected the environment in their busy lives. Hence, they decided to do a Green Life Program – a component of Interact Club Programs – by cleaning the beach, arranging it all themselves, ably led by the Green Life Director Hiranya Munasinghe. Their energetic staff adviser Shenika Jayawardena had won the Global Teachers’ Award 2018 the only Sri Lankan to do so, was a vibrant support.

The girls indicated they had a great response to a poster about the beach cleanup and realized many young people were interested to participate in these projects, but had no opportunity to do so. Due to logistical reasons the first project was limited to the Interact Club members but they hope to do future projects and include more people. I explained my vision of an environmental group in this area, who would canvass support from schools, student groups, religious groups, service groups and organizations in the area to do regular clean ups and have a calendar where groups nominate a day when they will do a cleanup. When it comes to young people and schools this may need adult support and protection. I thought of the days of my own youth when we had ‘Shramadana Projects’ from school, and wonder whether this could be a regular feature of the school program promoted by the Education Department.


I discussed with the group how they may influence other Interact Clubs and even Rotaract Clubs to join in these activities through their Districts. They were very enthusiastic and full of ideas about how young people can use social media to spread the message and canvass support. Ms. Bastian promised to discuss this at an upcoming District meeting on the different religious festivals. This led to the topic that all religions speak of the importance of protecting the environment, or the gift of creation as some might call it, yet does not recognize that polluting the environment is a violation of this, that truly how we live our lives is neglectful, uncaring, or to put it more strongly a ‘sin’, and even ‘evil’. Among other things, plastic kills much marine life and many, many birds. As the picture indicates most of the debris is from single use plastic bottles and yoghurt cups. As any beach walker will tell you, floating plastic in the water is a frequent sight. These break into small pieces and are eaten by fish and birds causing death. If unwanted killing of animals is a ‘sin’ or an offence against creation, then surely killing so much sea life and bird life by the use of plastic must come under this.


The importance of minimizing the use of plastic was raised and I offered to conduct awareness programs giving more information on the damage plastic does to the environment, particularly, marine life and encouraged them to make contact with other Interact Clubs and youth groups to participate in this important work. They knew that they are the future, the hope of the world. I informed them that through the programs I have done some schools have developed a ‘no plastic’ environment and they were very keen to learn more.

I also caught up with Ms. Deva –Adithya who indicated that when she approached the authorities for support for a beach cleanup, she was encouraged to join the beach cleanup organized for World Ocean Day and Tourism Week, which she did. Being keen to form a group to conduct beach clean ups, she has started to contact various organizations to get support and hopes to use social media. On the same day a restaurant owner, Lani, who has been promoting beach cleanups contacted me to urge the formation of a group.

This has been a very encouraging week. Another issue that needs addressing is the burning of plastic, a thing I often see walking on the beach. This produces dioxins and furans that are linked to cancer and respiratory diseases. This was a shocking example of this –the swirling dense pitch black fumes gushed up like a tornado spreading far and wide, and I gasped as I walked past.