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FEATURES: How Good Samaritans are cleaning up Nigeria’s dirty beaches

The big black trash bags you will soon see when you scroll through the pictures embedded in the article carry recyclable items left to clutter one of the beautiful beaches of Lagos – Regal Seaview Beach in Lekki.

But the litter that filled the beach, tainting its glorious view, has become common place in most beaches in Lagos.

With every wave, tons of dirt are flushed out to the seashore, sometimes leaving a stench that puts even residents, visitors off the beach. What used to be the number one spot for relaxation has generally been relegated. Save for a few private and exclusive beaches, most others harbor traders and people who build shanties on the beach to shelter themselves.

Beaches in Lagos have evidently become trash haven, ignored by many, but totally noticed by founders of Beach Samaritans- Pelu Awofeso and Adesola Alamutu.

Beach Samaritans

The non-governmental organization has cleaned up various beaches.

So, while there are conferences being held on environmental degradation, pollution, recycling et al, the Beach Samaritans are taking real action: they are cleaning up the dirt.

No talks, no long seminars, they just clean up – they clean up the beaches. They roll up sleeves and get dirty so the beaches can get clean. I think it is their little contribution to the big problem of dirty beaches and sea shores.

“Unfortunately, what we see dirtying beaches and floating on the ocean’s surface is just the tip of the iceberg… Much more lies unseen beneath the surface and far away on the open water — but that doesn’t make it any less important,” Mr. Awofeso and Ms. Alamutu said, quoting the Conservancy in highlighting the importance of the cleanup.

But also the beaches I see after the clean-up actually look more appealing.

The first clean-up I attended was on Saturday September 19. Ikechukwu, (my son) and I went to the Regal sea view (albeit late) and met the enthusiastic bunch at Beach Samaritans and another group – Kids Clean Club – heaping black bags with trash-recyclable items.

We dug in, slid the rubber gloves on and helped pile on the bags. This was real. Empty bottles, slippers, containers that could all be recycled.

That particular clean up was to commemorate the International Coastal Cleanup and it was memorable, an event I was proud to be part of because there was action, not mere talking.

The children of Kids Clean up and the adults of Beach Samaritans actually did – they cleaned up- (I know it is repetitive already) again there were no conferences to talk about the filth at the beaches and how it translates to the end of the beaches because nature will be unkind to man who is unkind to nature.

The Beach Samaritans’ methodical approach was to not talk but do.

“We are doing this for our environment, for our tourism and for our collective health,” says Beach Samaritans Co-Founder and environmentalist, Adesola Alamutu. “This is our sixth cleanup activity in the past one year, and we are delighted that we have had the support of hundreds of volunteers and some sponsors thus far.”

“Nigeria has more than 800km of coastline, much of it extensively littered. In the last 25 years, an estimated 144, 606, 491 pounds of trash was removed from beaches worldwide,” the founders say.

“Researchers say about 80 percent of marine litter originates on land, and most of it is non-biodegradable”.

Mr. Awofeso said that according to a 2014 report by the United Nations Environment Programme, “plastic pollution causes at least US $13 billion of damage each year to industries that include fishing, shipping, tourism and the cleaning of coastlines”.

It is immediately easy to see how the recyclable items, especially the non-biodegradable items, impinge on the economy and cost it money. There is an obvious lull in beach tourism. Even the locals who live five minutes away from the beach don’t visit.

I spoke to the founder of Kids Clean Club, Doyinsola Ogunye, who told me she practically had to go knocking at the estate beside the beach to ask the residents to visit the beach. She said, surprisingly, a lot of them told her they had never visited the beach.

Mr. Awofeso sums it this way, quoting the Natural Resources Defence Council: “Plastic that pollutes our oceans and waterways has severe impacts on our environment and our economy”.

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