Australians are bloody proud of our beaches. Why wouldn't we be? After all, we have some of the best in the world.
But while most people love the feeling of salt water on the skin, getting a plastic bag wrapped around your ankle can really ruin the experience. Same with stretching out on a bank of white sand only to unearth a cigarette butt right next to your head.
Our beaches may be beautiful, but unless we change how we treat them, they won't be for long.
This is the attitude of Tim Silverwood, co-founder of Australian clean beach initiative Take 3. The premise behind the not-for-profit is simple: when you leave a beach, take three pieces of rubbish with you. (Unless it's your rubbish, in which case you should take all of it, with an additional three pieces to make up for the grubs who were there before you.)
Then, if you're social media savvy, you can upload a pic of yourself and your collection on Instagram with the hashtag #take3forthesea to help spread the word.
Though Take 3 has been around since 2009, it wasn't the organisation was awarded the a $50,000 Innaugural Taronga Conservation Society Green Grant in 2011 that things really started to take off.
"Having that kind of recognition make us think, 'wow, people believe in this'," Silverwood told The Huffington Post Australia. "That same year I ended up learning about this opportunity to go to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, so I crowdfunded $15,000 and was able to get there, along with a ragtag bunch of activists and scientists.
"It's in the middle of the ocean, in the North Pacific, and is basically this place where plastics accumulate. From that [trip] on, I knew this was something I wanted to commit to 100 percent, and I haven't looked back since."
For those who haven't heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, consider yourself lucky. Also known as the 'Pacific trash vortex', Silverwood describes it as "a plastic soup" of rubbish. Google it. We dare you.
This week I will be talking with a local school about marine debris. I wanted to demonstrate just how big of an issue plastic and other marine debris is so I decided to collect some "resources". 📚📎⚖This is what I managed to collect at my beloved surf break💙🏄💙. I walked a shoreline no longer than 500m and this is what I found. ☠This is a sad truth and leads to a heavy heart 💔that I'll be educating local kids on this issue.😫😤🙁 #take3forthesea #plasticfree
Now, in 2016, Take 3 has a growing network of supporters (including a casual 21,000 followers on Instagram) and Silverwood said he and co-founders Amanda Marechal and Roberta Dixon-Valk had no plans to slow down any time soon.
"We’re definitely happy with the growth with our online audience but we are not even close to started yet," he said.
"We want to do this comprehensively and nationally.
"We are impassioned by the opportunities in citizen science. There are these people out there, doing really important environmentally positive things, and we want to be a part of that."
Holy Moly that is a lot of plastic pollution! All from one collection by @starytt along the Tuncurry foreshore, on the East Coast of Australia. @starytt seems to picking up the slack for the rest of us, check out her feed for some inspiring stuff!! #weeklyregram #take3regram #tuncurry #forstertuncurry #nsw #plasticpollution #cleanupaustralia #take3forthesea #TeamUpCleanUp
While Silverwood credits Instagram with helping Take 3 build an impressive online following -- particularly with younger generations -- it's hard data the team is now really after.
"Aside from stories that we can foster from following the hashtag and seeing the images people post, we're not really getting any data to what’s being collected," Silverwood said.
"We want to create a data set to enable us to reduce this source of pollution. Because one day, [we'd like to see] the banning of plastic bags, of polystyrene or coffee cups, but in the meantime, where's the data to back up that need for change?
"Take 3 exists because plastic pollution is a hazard to the ocean and to wildlife. We’ve all seen the images of a penguin strangled by a six pack or a bottle cap lodged in the throat of an albatross, which is what we want people to think about when they see that plastic on the ground.
"All of this, it’s coming from us. It’s our consumption. It's our single use disposable packaging."
In terms of how you can limit the impact you have on the environment, Silverwood said there were two simple things you could do. Firstly, pick up plastic when you see it lying around. Secondly, reduce your own use.
"The Take 3 action is very significant. When you first start noticing plastic on the ground, you might be hesitant or thinking, 'should I or shouldn’t I?' But when they do make that first leap, it's very very profound. The changing shifts to 'I didn't put that there, but I will take it away.'
"I would also recommend having a look at your consumption of single use plastic. It's very easy to choose the lowest hanging fruit or the easiest option.
"But some changes you can make could be to stop drinking bottled water, or take a reusable shopping bag to the supermarket, or set yourself a challenge to have a 'plastic free' day once a week.
"At the very least, take three pieces of rubbish with you when you next leave the beach.
"Think about it. There are 24 million people in Australia. If everyone did a 'take 3' on a single day, that would be 72 million pieces of rubbish off our beaches and out of our oceans."
Keen to find out more? Check out Silverwood's TED talk below.