This week, another dead dolphin washed ashore in Lee County, its stomach full of plastic ocean trash. It used to be that most of us thought plastic ocean trash was something that happened elsewhere – in those ‘other’ parts of the world, not in our little corner of paradise, in SW Florida. Sadly, the times, they are a changing.

We are in our waters or on our beaches nearly every day, and rarely any more do we have an ocean encounter not including some form of plastic garbage. Our little corner of paradise clearly represents that larger, global community where plastics in the ocean are the new normal. But is that what we want? Do we want our legacy to be the generation that filled our oceans with plastic? Would it somehow feel better to claim that we didn’t throw plastics in the ocean, and choose to do nothing? For those of us in Coastal Keepers, that answer is no. We want to be an active part of the solution – not a passive part of the problem.

The great aspect of the plastic problem is that, unlike many conservation issues, there is a clear solution. It’s simple for each of us to decrease our consumption of disposable plastics by opting out or choosing reusable options. Small actions add up to have a large impact.

Last year, in partnership with several island businesses, Coastal Keepers successfully encouraged the Sanibel City Council to pass an ordinance regulating plastic straws. We have already noticed less straws littering our beaches. Through our Bring Your Own Bag initiative, we have distributed more than 18,000 reusable canvas bags to shoppers, many at Bailey’s General Store – and it is working. The incidence of shoppers bringing their own bag has noticeably increased.

We hope the City of Sanibel will assert our ability to govern our community and create an ordinance regulating plastic bags in the near future. In the meantime, thousands of our neighbors and many shops have voluntarily chosen to opt out of plastic bags.

We are thankful for the support of Governor DeSantis for community conservation efforts. When DeSantis recently vetoed HB 771, which would have ended our local straw ordinance, he mentioned Sanibel first, as a leader of conservation. We are proud to be leading the way when it comes to cleaning up our waters, and we believe that all communities should be free to govern themselves for the environment.

We realize that our community is small, but we have the power to get a lot of people thinking about how they can help the ocean. With more than 3 million vehicles crossing the causeway each year, we have an opportunity to educate our visitors, who we hope will be inspired to continue going reusable long after they return home.

Our goal is to create a ripple effect, helping people all over the country and world practice ocean stewardship every day. Join us as a positive force of change – we challenge you to find some way to reduce your individual consumption of disposable plastics today.

Coastal Keepers is a branch of Sanibel Sea School that creates and implements local conservation initiatives to promote and improve the future of marine resources, and our coastal heritage. To learn more, email coastalkeepers@sanibelseaschool.org.