Since the days of Jack Sparrow, sailors have been known to throw back a few cold ones while on board. With the more recent rise of environmentalism, sailors have made an increased effort to keep their empties on board and dispose of them properly, not in the ocean. Still, marine life is perishing after eating remnants of party trash from the sea. So what gives?
“Most boaters don’t want to return to docks with empties because of DUI laws,” says Rudy Socha, CEO of Wounded Nature—Working Veterans, an organization dedicated to stopping this problem at its source.
A common misconception is that officials will associate empties with drunk driving when in reality, the main concern is the BAC level of the boat operator.
According to Wounded Nature’s website, despite relatively clean beaches and shores, at least 267 marine species are affected by plastic garbage, especially in the more isolated anchorages. Digestion backs up, gas builds up, and dehydration sets in. In this state, sea animals can no longer swim and float to the water’s surface; they’re beyond the point of being rescued.
Founded in 2010, Wounded Nature’s mission is to clean up waters and beaches along the entire East Coast in rural and hard-to-reach areas that other organizations are currently overlooking. As a non-profit, Wounded Nature relies heavily on volunteers and their boats to supply the manpower and resources for leading clean ups.
But Wounded Nature also aims to address the issue on a more policy-driven level. Socha says some boaters dump trash at sea, for fear of violating alcohol consumption laws when they return to the dock.
“The guilt doesn’t outweigh the penalties [boaters] face by bringing back empties,” Socha says. He’s talked to boaters who have admitted to sinking a few wine bottles, but also want to help solve this dilemma.
Part of the solution is reacquainting boaters with consumption laws. According to Boaters Against Drunk Driving, in about 40 states, the legal BAC limit for operating a water vehicle is the same as that for a motor vehicle: 0.08 percent. This number has little to do with the number of bottles on the boat and more to do with the person driving it. Also, open container laws are usually different at sea than on land, says Dave Neblett of Florida’s boating and drinking laws. Neblett is a maritime lawyer and a Wounded Nature board member.
In other words, if your boat’s captain drinks responsibly and you dispose of empties responsibly, there’s no problem.
Over the past few years, Wounded Nature, based in Charleston, South Carolina, has been reaching out to government agencies, publications and boaters themselves, soliciting creative ideas to discourage people from sinking empties and encourage them to bring trash back to shore.
The most promising solution received so far is for volunteers at individual marinas to record the number of bottles aboard when a boat leaves the dock and then again when it returns. Sounds tedious and a bit Big Brother-ish, but it’s all in the name of cleaning up the water, not getting people in trouble.
Now, Wounded Nature’s focus is on raising funds and collecting donations. In the future, Socha hopes to raise sufficient funds for full-time employees and boats to be out on the water on a daily basis.
Visit woundednature.org to make a donation, learn more about volunteering and suggest your own solution.
Photos courtesy of woundednature.org