Think Globally, Act Locally


SCA member Sarika Khanwilkar helps mitigate a global conservation problem

Members of the Boys & Girls Club of Martin County gathered at Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge with Sarika Khanwilkar for a marine debris beach clean-up.

All of us live on Earth, but nowadays the natural world is hard to find. Most of us spend the day surrounded by asphalt roads, cement sidewalks, landscaped yards and business fronts, artificial lighting, and traffic noise; a constructed reality.

Hobe Sound National Wildlife Refuge (HSNWR) sits in the middle of this, and is special because it is protected from South Florida’s infinitely expanding coastal, urban development. Unfortunately, this protection sometimes isn’t enough.

The ocean, bombarded with trash, continuously expels some of that garbage onto the Refuge beach. My elation on my first day as an intern was cut short when I visited the beach and took in the amount of trash. I had been taught about the global marine debris issue in school, but it wasn’t until my SCA internship that I really understood it. This mylar balloon is non-biodegradable, and will live longer in the environment than the person who received it for their birthday.

The major concern for the Refuge is wildlife, and nesting turtles and shorebirds use this same beach.  These leatherback sea turtle tracks, found in the early morning, are signs of an active beach nightlife.

Marine debris is a global conservation issue. Coming to understand its local scale impacts at  HSNWR has been profoundly inspirational. This understanding has developed through research, many hot, tedious hours of beach cleanup, and experiencing the emotional rollercoaster which is a consequence of learning the details behind any global issue. Realizing that factors contributing to marine debris, such as international pollution and overconsumption, are mostly out of my control can make me feel helpless. However, I also feel empowered. When I pick up trash at the beach while passing by tracks left by nesting sea turtles, I know that I am truly making a difference for at least the wild animals that include the beach in their habitat.

As an SCA Americorps member, a required component of my service is a community outreach project. I wanted my project to share the ‘rollercoaster’ experience that provided me the realization that individual actions do make a difference. With this in mind, I developed a marine debris program to share with the summer camp teens that visit HSNWR throughout the summer from the Boys and Girls Club of Martin County.

The first visit was on June 25th, and after spending hours developing an engaging presentation and making logistical arrangements, I was both anxious and excited as I waited for the bus to arrive.

Starting at the headquarters, they learned about marine debris and were trained as citizen scientists, using the Marine Debris Tracker App to collect data.

Next, we all went to the Refuge beach to cleanup, see the effects firsthand, and be a part of the solution!

We removed a lot of plastic fragments, cigarette butts, aluminum cans, food wrappers, balloons (the list could go on) in a single morning. Doing these small things with a big heart is, I believe,  the foundation for positive change in conserving our planet.  My hope is that this day will encourage in its participants a lifetime of respect towards the environment.

It is invigorating, knowing that as an SCA intern, I have the resources and support to do such a thing.


Inspire another young conservationist… and safeguard our parks today!

Help students like Sarika protect parks today and emerge as nature’s stewards for tomorrow.


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