This blog was written by Skyler Nix, a Zoo Crew member who participated in one of the Zoo’s Adventure Programs. Through these programs, teens explore natural areas in Texas and participate in outdoor activities such as hiking, canoeing, kayaking, camping, etc. as well as participating in conservation projects such as beach clean-ups and habitat restoration.
Our sea lion family has grown over the past few years with the birth of two pups, Tj and Max. It takes quite a lot of effort, as well as time, to train, feed, monitor, and care for these now five sea lions in addition to conducting keeper chats and engaging with zoo guests. On top of all of this, the sea lion staff work additional hours to help keep our oceans clean for wildlife right here in Texas.
The Sea lion staff assists with a fishing line recycling program that aims to diminish the quantity of monofilament line on the Surfside Jetty in Surfside, Texas. This program was organized by NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association) together with Texas A&M University’s Monofilament & Recycling Program. Monofilament line is endangering wildlife such as sea turtles, fish, rays, dolphins, birds, and sea lions because it can snare and entangle animals, making it difficult and sometimes even impossible to for them to swim, fly, or find food. Our sea lion staff manages monthly clean ups on the Surfside Jetty to empty the monofilament bins as well as to collect trash, recyclables, and line caught in between rocks. In addition, these trips also provide Zoo staff, volunteers, and teens opportunities to get out in nature and take action to save wildlife.
A few weeks ago on April 21, a group of eight teens and myself were given the opportunity to travel, under the supervision of Zoo staff, to the Surfside Jetty and assist in the recycling project. We arrived early in the morning that Saturday full of excitement and ready to get to work. After meeting up with the sea lion staff on the jetty, we headed back to their truck to gear up. We equipped ourselves with gloves, trash pickers, nail clippers (great for cutting line), and buckets. We split into three groups to cover as much ground as possible – the sea lion staff at the far side of the jetty, half of the teens on the beach, and the other half covered the center. My group was determined to get every piece of trash spotted; even if it meant getting knocked and drenched by oncoming waves. We made great progress, consistently emptying out our buckets into trash bags.
About half way through the day, we stopped for lunch. We sat together at a picnic table near the jetty, ate our lunches, refilled our water bottles, and shared our progress. What happened next will forever influence my life. A gust of wind passed over our table, and seamlessly, a plastic bag was lifted into the air and flew away (we later found the bag and properly disposed of it). It made me realize how easily trash can make its way into the ocean. Nearly 4.8 million metric tons of plastic waste enters the ocean each year; 91% of plastic isn’t recycled; every minute, a garbage truck of plastic is dumped into the oceans. The majority of trash doesn’t start in the ocean; is starts when you decide to throw away a plastic bottle instead of recycling it. It then makes its way to a landfill, then, by wind or water, it will make its way into the ocean.
After we finished lunch and refilled our water bottles, we went back to work. This time we covered the rest of the beach and the backside of the jetty. Though we only spent an hour or so there, we got the most trash; nearly twice as much as in the center of the jetty. Plastic plates, styrofoam cups, plastic wrappers, soda cans, water bottles- all every day items we use, yet, we never really consider the consequences of not recycling these items – the consequences wildlife have to pay.
Though the day was rather daunting, in the end I felt that day was a learning experience, and I’m sure the rest of the teens I spent the day with would agree. One of the teens, Claire, couldn’t believe how never ending the trash seemed. Other teens, like Nicole and Mia, found it crazy how random items like shoes and toothbrushes made it all the way to the jetty. Hannah found a coke bottle, dated from 22 years ago (1996)! This was an overall amazing trip for me; I made new friends and helped the environment, that’s a win-win for me.
By the end of the day, we had collected 3 pounds of monofilament line (which is insane considering how light it is), 65 pounds of trash, and 58 pounds of recyclables. The line and recyclables were brought back to the zoo to be sorted and eventually recycled.
There are three things I do every day in my life that help animals in the wild that you can do too! I use a reusable water bottle, recycle, and reuse everyday items to make eco-friendly alternatives to things like plastic. For example, you can easily turn an old shirt into a new reusable bag. Since this trip allowed me to experience the effects plastic pollution has on the environment first hand, it makes me feel accomplished to know that I have kept trash out of the ocean by doing those 3 simple things.
Here are some other things you can do to help save animals in the wild!
- Using reusable bags and water bottles instead of plastic, which can end up in the ocean causing harm to animals. The Houston Zoo is now plastic bag and plastic water bottle free!
- If you fish, dispose of your used line in monofilament bins located along the coast at popular fishing spots – this will help to ensure that fishing line does not make its way back into the water, and can be recycled into new products
- Pick up trash on daily walks or trips to the beach to help reduce the amount of debris that could make its way into our oceans!
- Report any sea turtles on the beach to NOAA biologists at 1-866-TURTLE-5
- Visit the Zoo! The fee you pay to visit the Zoo goes towards saving animals in the wild!
The next time you visit the Zoo, make sure to stop by the sea lion pool and say hi to Max, Tj, Cali, Kamia, and Jonah for me, and don’t forget to take a look at the Marine Debris Wall on the deck! Interested in going on a trip similar to mine? Click here to register for a Teen Adventure Program!