ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam -- The sun just completed its ascent into the sky and the sound of ocean waves thundered on Saturday, Sept. 17, as Airmen, Sailors and Marines stormed Tarague Beach on Andersen Air Force Base, Guam.
However, instead of a showcase of power and capability, the visiting members of Exercise Valiant Shield 2016 formed a joint-task force of approximately 120 members with home-stationed personnel and their families. This team would go on to spend five hours collecting, bagging and tagging 20 bags of trash and 10 bags of recyclables from the base beach during the 2016 International Coastal Cleanup.
The International Coastal Cleanup is a world-wide event which can be found in 92 countries and locations. Guam has participated in the event for the past 22 years in order to contribute to the ecological health of the world's ocean. More than 18 million pounds of trash was collected by nearly 800,000 volunteers during the 2015 International Coastal Cleanup.
Marylou Staman, University of Guam Sea Turtle Monitoring, Protection and Educational Outreach on Guam project manager and lead for Andersen’s cleanup initiative, said this event is not only critical for the sea turtles and other sea life residing on Tarague Beach, but for some of the volunteers as well.
“If you look around right now, you’ll see we have a lot of children present at the event,” said the project manager. “This event allows us to show them the impact for something as simple as throwing a wrapper to the wind. There is so much trash that washes up here and our job is to help them understand what they use and what they throw out can come back to harm the environment.”
Staman said the annual event, which usually occurs in September, allows Ocean Conservancy to gather metrics on what trash is collected — allowing them to see trouble areas and how to counter them.
“Each volunteer fills out a same data sheet on what type of garbage is collected,” she said. “We look at this data and can then change our plan of attack. For example, we see there is not much land-based trash, which is nice, because it means residents and visitors here are not littering too much. However, we find fishing nets, toothbrushes and other floating garbage which can become problematic.”
Petty Officer 1st Class Erica Toussaint, a hospital corpsman here for the exercise, said the event is a great way to give back to the community.
“Guam is an amazing location to host this exercise,” she said. “And if we are going to be here, we might as well help where we can to make it a little better than when we got here. This event is a perfect way to do just that.”
Due to mission requirements and an increased work schedule, servicemembers who participate in Exercise Valiant Shield do not receive an abundance of free time — and the dedication of said free time to volunteering did not go unnoticed.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Staman said. “It is one thing to be dedicated and take care of the place you live in, but it is even more so to see people who have no connection to the land — people who are just visiting and choose to give back. I’m really touched. I know they’re not out here for very long and I know they have very busy schedules, so it is incredible they are taking some of their very-limited free time to give back and make a difference.”
For more information about the coastal cleanup and statistics on previous iterations, visit http://www.oceanconservancy.org/our-work/international- coastal-cleanup/.