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Cleaning Beaches & Building Communities: An Interview with The Beach Co-Op

The term “climate anxiety” has begun to pop up a lot more over the last couple of years, namely because we are becoming more aware of the impacts of climate change on our immediate environments. Floods, drought, and other weather-related catastrophes are now commonplace in most, if not all, countries.


Climate anxiety refers to the feeling of hopelessness and angst when faced with the realities of the climate crisis. With social media, we have easy access to news and weather updates from around the globe. The constant bad news can make anybody feel helpless in the face of this problem, which is why we need to shift our focus onto ways we can make a difference as individuals. It is certainly important to avoid ignorance and stay up-to-date with changes that are happening around the world, but finding the balance is key to avoid intense feelings of anxiety and worry for the future.


There are many ways individuals can take action and thus ease any anxious feelings around climate change. Of course, one person cannot fix the world simply by recycling, but many people taking small steps is a great start to making the world a better place and encouraging others to do the same.


One great (and simple!) way to reduce individual climate anxiety is by joining a local beach clean-up. Beach clean-ups are a wonderful way to feel like you're doing your part for the environment. Another perk of joining a clean-up is joining a community of like-minded folk, meeting people who share ideas similar to yours, and creating a safe space to discuss your worries and thoughts on climate change, but also share encouragement and tips on dealing with these worries.


We were so inspired to learn more about The Beach Co-Op, a not-for-profit company that evolved from the work of a group of volunteers that started collecting marine litter at their local surf break, the rocky shore at Surfers Corner in Muizenberg, Cape Town in 2015. We got in touch with their founder, Aaniyah Omardien, to hear more about The Beach Co-Op's story, what inspired her to start the organization, and how their beach clean-ups have evolved into fostering an inclusive community with a heart for caring for our oceans.



Aaniyah Omardien, director and founder of The Beach Co-Op, focuses on work that connects people and nature. She has 15 years of experience in the conservation sector, with a strong emphasis on finding the balance between what is good for the earth and good for the people. Aaniyah is also a founding fellow of the Women for the Environment Africa leadership program which she participated in 2021, and is a registered PhD student at the Environmental Learning Research Center, Rhodes University.


Read our interview with Aaniyah below.



WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START THE BEACH CO-OP?


I love spending time in the ocean – surfing, swimming, snorkeling, rock pooling and exploring. Growing up in Cape Town with parents who loved the ocean and encouraged us to swim helped foster my love for the marine environment and therefore the urge to care for, and protect it.


WHAT DOES THE BEACH CO-OP DO?


TBCO's vision is to work collaboratively and creatively within ocean communities and with government and business to urgently protect, restore and regenerate the integrity of ocean ecosystems. It follows that our key focus is to nurture ocean communities that care for our marine environment.


We host two kinds of clean-ups – sandy beach and rocky shore clean-ups. Rocky shore clean-ups need to take place when the tide is very low in order for us to clean an area that would be underwater if the tide was high. The tide is lowest at new or full moon. We have chosen to clean the rocky shore at Surfers Corner, Muizenberg at new moon and have been doing so for the last seven years.


Our sandy beach clean-ups are either sponsored by corporates or are voluntary, and we use a citizen science approach whereby citizens help us collect data. We log the litter we find by using the Dirty Dozen™ methodology - the top 12 most commonly found items on our beaches. We collect everything but log the 12 items only.


WHAT WERE SOME OF THE CHALLENGES YOU FACED WHEN STARTING OUT?


We had very few people attend our clean-ups when we first started seven years ago, but we continued to show up every new moon and created the awareness and the sense of community/custodianship. Funding has also been an ongoing challenge because our work is more process than output driven. We want to build communities that care for our marine environment and this takes time. We also approach how we work in interesting and novel ways that don’t follow traditional conservation practices.


HOW HAS THE BEACH CO-OP GROWN SINCE BEING FOUNDED?


We have shifted our focus from being only concerned about the health of our marine environment to including building communities that care for our marine environment. We changed our approach by including artists, indigenous community leaders, poets, and dancers in our work.


For example, we have worked with a graffiti artist, Claire Homewood, and she has painted some of the plant and animal biodiversity found in the rock pools at Surfers Corner along the board walk.


WHAT ARE SOME HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE LAST YEAR?


A few clean up events really stuck out to us this year, one being held at Cape Point Reserve in partnership with SanParks and Nyanga Hiking Club. Later in the year, another event - named Women on Waves - in the Cape Point Reserve was in partnership with SanParks, Black Girl Surf and Find Your Stoke. Both events were strong reminders of why we do what we do and inspired us to keep those partnerships alive and running.


Currently, these events are voluntary on our behalf, and we aim to find sufficient funding to run them for several years. International Coastal Clean Up day (ICC) was spent at BokBaai up the west coast and was only possible in partnership with one of our primary funders, Mapula Trust. We also hope that this will become our annual ICC day event.


WHAT DOES THE BEACH CO-OP HOPE TO ACHIEVE IN THE NEXT FEW YEARS?


We have begun working on the Youth Visions in Changing Climate (YVCC) project, which is a project with the higher purpose of ‘Building Resilience in the City of Cape Town’. The overall aim of the project is to better understand opportunities for building social-ecological resilience through participatory, arts-based methodologies and engagement with urban youth.


The project is in partnership with Centre for Sustainability Transitions (CST) which is part of the University of Stellenbosch, the University of Cape Town, Amava Oluntu and Care Creative and funded by the City of Cape Town and the Cape Higher Education Consortium. The work entails linking two youth communities – Mitchells Plain and Muizenberg - through three workshops which involve art-based processes, beach and urban waterway clean-ups, and a participatory mural development.


We want to better understand the diverse identities of our coastal communities.


Cape Town is a coastal city rich in cultural heritage and contexts. Spending more time engaging with and bridging diverse networks across the metropolis is an important aspect of building community.


Another focus for us would be to direct our data collection efforts to answer locally relevant questions. The Dirty Dozen™ methodology has been a success in terms of user engagement and uptake. It is clear that people want to contribute to science. Our aim is to be more strategic about where and when we do our beach clean-ups so that they can effectively align to local research questions and agendas.


WHY IS THIS TYPE OF CAUSE SO IMPORTANT?


South Africa is considered a developing country, and the disparity between the privileged and marginalised is extreme. For example, the marginalised are the most threatened by the effects of climate change, but are often side-lined from the sustainability conversation. Life systems are connected across geo-political and social boundaries. TBCO works within a global understanding of environmental and social opportunities and challenges, but acts at the local and national level to address them.


Our beach clean up efforts are designed as an experiential learning process, where the issues related to plastic and their impact on marine environments are understood through hands-on experience. By raising awareness of the need to reduce litter on our shoreline, and by linking individual choice to marine pollution, we are promoting and nurturing ocean literacy and stewardship at the community and ecosystem level.


Individual awareness and behavioural changes are key factors in reducing the impact of single-use plastics on marine ecosystems. We promote a systems-thinking approach to conservation and aim to foster community stewardship of healthy local ecosystems, holistically.


WHY IS SUSTAINABLE LIVING AND ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISM IMPORTANT TO YOU?


Sustainability and environmentalism go hand in hand. And yet, for the longest time I have struggled with being tagged as an environmentalist, because it did not capture the social justice and human rights issues that I feel are marginalised in traditional conservation and sustainability/environmental practices.


I have connected with the intersectional environmentalist movement that focuses on co-creating and constructing equitable economies and including the voices and knowledge of the most marginalised. This space works to encourage learning and how to live within planetary boundaries in harmony with natural systems, and with each other.


WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO PEOPLE WHO ARE UNSURE OF WHERE TO START WHEN IT COMES TO CLIMATE ACTION AND LIVING A MORE SUSTAINABLE LIFE?


Start with small changes in your lifestyle. Three easy ways to reduce the amount of single use plastic in your life are:

  • Remember your shoppers when you go shopping to avoid buying single-use shopping bags.

  • Invest in a re-usable water bottle to avoid buying bottled water.

  • Avoid buying over-packaged food wrapped in unnecessary single-use plastic


WHO CAN GET INVOLVED IN THE BEACH CO-OP, AND HOW?


Anyone and everyone. You are welcome to join us at one of our monthly New Moon or Dirty Dozen(™) clean-ups. Join our clean-up email list by sending an email to megan@thebeachcoop.org.


People can support by joining our clean-ups, becoming a Dirty Dozen(™) volunteer, sponsor the cost of a beach clean-up via Snapscan or contact us directly to make a donation towards a specific clean-up. Any donation made is eligible for a Section18A Tax exemption.


Some basic running costs where help would be needed:


  • A collection bag – R180-R200 (Sealand Drag bags)

  • Sponsor youth group transport to the clean up – R1000-R3000

  • Cleanup facilitator fee – R1000 (@R250 per hour)

  • Storage and maintenance costs – R500 per month


THE DIRTY DOZEN CLEANUP TOOLKIT


If you’re unable to join one of our clean-ups, our Dirty Dozen Cleanup™ Toolkit is designed to be used by individuals, groups of families and friends and by other beach cleanup organisations around the world. The goal? To collect rigorous data that supports the call for change to the way we buy, use and discard plastics.


  • Download the Marine Debris Tracker App on IOS or Android.

  • Select “Tracking” and choose “The Beach Co-op”.

  • Log your Dirty Dozen(™) items as you clean up the beach.

  • Add a description of the clean-up (pointers are given)

  • Press submit

There is also an option to download the Dirty Dozen(™) data sheet and complete it online or print it out and fill it in the old-fashioned way!


If you are a sole citizen scientist, you will play the role of leader, scribe and collector. If you are working in a group, these roles can be split.


  • The leader introduces the team to the Dirty Dozen(™) items and instructs the team to collect everything but to only call out Dirty Dozen(™) items. Note that while you can add additional items to the list, these are not passed on for analysis.

  • The scribe notes down what is called out and keeps a running tally of each item as well as carrying the trash bag.

  • The cleaners pick up everything, but only call out Dirty Dozen(™) items. The roles of cleaner and scribe can be swapped during the clean-up.

What happens next? When the clean-up is finished, and the data sheet is complete:


  • Decant bags with less waste into consolidated bags and save the empty ones for future clean-ups.

  • Count and log the number of bags collected.

  • Take a photograph of the group and the bags.

  • Submit this data – either through the app or on the online form.

We look forward to receiving your data and thank you for your contribution!



To stay up to date on future TBCO events and clean-ups, follow them on Instagram here.