Eco Warriors—The Ibarra Family
Over a thousand people have been talking about your family trip to the beach, on the news and on Facebook. Please tell us what about your family, what brought you to the beach that day, and what you saw?
Our entire family loves the outdoors especially our son, Andrew, who wanted to celebrate his 14th birthday party at Padre Island National Seashore (PINS). We usually take 3-4 trips out there during the summer and love driving out as far as we can. We enjoy being away from others and just spending time as a family enjoying nature. We have been lucky to observe sea turtles in their natural environment, as well as witness an unannounced baby sea turtle release. For Andrew's birthday, he wanted to drive down the beach which is about 60 miles. This area of the beach is only open to vehicles that have 4 wheel drive.
At the beginning of our 60-mile drive down the beach, we saw two balloons. We stopped for one but sadly weren’t able to stop for the other. The first 10 miles or so of PINS is beautiful, there’s a lot of trash, but luckily it seems to get cleaned up more than the harder to reach areas.
After the first 10 miles, we started seeing a lot more plastic pollution which, sadly, is typical. Once we made it to the 60-mile mark, we took some pictures and then started looking for a good campsite. We settled somewhere around the 50-55 mile mark.
Our campsite was littered with trash. We have made a point to always bring extra trash bags and pick
up whatever trash we can whenever we are out at PINS. There was trash left by previous campers
and trash that was washed in from the gulf. It was honestly overwhelming how much trash was
out there. You could tell some of it had been out there for a long time.
When we woke in the morning after Valentine’s Day, Andrew and I started seeing balloons.
I think we collected around 7 or so from just around our campsite. None of the balloons
were fully inflated, but they had enough helium in them that we poked holes in them
so we could fit them into the trash bags we’d brought.
It was after picking up our campsite and starting our drive back down the beach, that we just kept
seeing balloon after balloon. We started stopping and Andrew would run out of the truck, stab the
balloons with my pen, and announce his balloon kill number (he’s into video games). Andrew did a
great job spotting them and telling us when to stop. While a few of the balloons said Happy Birthday, the majority of the balloons were Valentine Day themed. Some of the balloons even had flowers tied to the bottom of them, so we knew they had to of been released purposely.
Andrew was really upset that we couldn't get to every balloon and had to leave them out there. It is just awful that there were so many balloons and how the poor sea turtles are going to think they are food.
I originally took a picture of the balloons around our campsite to just post on my personal Facebook and to send it to PINS. I thought they’d be interested in what was flying/washing in. Andrew had me retake the picture with all the balloons because there’s just a difference picking them up one or two at a time and then seeing a pile of them all at once. We were just in shock how many there were, especially knowing we weren’t able to stop for all of them.
There are people who would have seen the balloons and trash, but would have walked right over it, why did you all take it upon yourself to collect the trash?
The answer is simple...It was the right thing to do.
At this point, we can’t wait for others to start thinking that cleaning up the environment is the right thing
to do. We have to lead by example and try to leave our natural areas better than we found them. We
know when we go out to PINS, we are coming back with a truckload of trash. It’s just the way it is.
Last summer, we picked up floating plastic trash from the ocean. There were sea turtles swimming around
that trash. We couldn’t in good conscience leave those balloons out there to be eaten by poor animals
that are just trying to survive.
You have said that this isn't the first time you and your family have gone to the beach for some family fun and collected the litter you have seen. What kind of trash do you see most of?
We have seen everything. We’ve found shoes, toothbrushes, containers of all shapes and sizes, bags—especially ziplock bags, lots of tarps, chairs, a shovel, and various broken shade structures. Andrew even has a little plastic figurine in his room that we found at PINS. One trip, Andrew and I went out to PINS for the day and realized that the same tent we saw there a few weeks ago was still there, so we broke it down and disposed of it properly.
The biggest problem is bottles and the plastic caps of the bottles. They are everywhere. It’s so disheartening to see such a beautiful place look like a landfill. There’s little pieces of microplastics everywhere and those are pretty much impossible to clean up.
Having seen Texas’s beaches littered with various kinds of trash, have you changed your habits in any way?
Most of the Texas’s beaches we’ve seen actually look quite nice. Maybe that’s why people don’t realize the scale of the problem we have with pollution. PINS is a different story though because the areas we frequent are not easy to get to.
We don’t buy balloons. For Andrew’s actual birthday party, all I bought was one paper sign that said Happy Birthday. That’s all that was needed.
We don’t regularly purchase single use water bottles, we typically use our Nalgene bottles, even when we go hiking. We have made it a habit to use reusable grocery bags, and even reusable produce bags when we shop. I try to be more conscientious of the packaging that’s being used when we make our purchases. It’s ridiculous how everything is packaged and then wrapped in plastic for no reason. I talk to my students about our plastic problem a lot...they think I’m a little nuts. I’ve even invested in a pair of Rothy’s since they are made from recycled water bottles and they will recycle the old shoes into yoga mats.
Do you have any advice to other Texans who are looking for a way to help conserve our natural resources and environment?
Even if you think it doesn’t make a difference, every little bit you do either helps or hurts our environment. Try to lean on the helping side. Start small, with something easy like using reusable bags.
Our family has made it a habit to pick up what we can when we are out at PINS.
We have to change our mentality from just complaining about the problem, to trying to
help make it better. We will always continue to pick up more than we bring in when we
are out there. It’s not fun cleaning up after others, but if we wait for others to do it, it may
never get done.