Commentary: Time to stop trashing the ocean

I reside in Edmonds with my wife, Aena Burrell. I was born in Everett and raised for the majority of my life in the greater Seattle Area. In all the places I have lived, I have always had an extreme fascination for the ocean. When I was 5 years of age my mom took me to see (still my favorite movie) “Free Willy,” starring Keiko — the Killer Whale. From that moment on, I was infatuated with everything cetacean. My wife and I frequent the San Juan Islands and got lucky enough to come across Point No Point (located in Hayesville, Wash.). We have seen several different cetaceans in our visits — Minke whales, Orcas and harbor porpoises. Each time is like we have never seen them before, and we still get just as excited.

With all the beauty the ocean has to offer, I have also understood that there was an underlying issue with the oceans that I could not see or that I just overlooked. I graduated from Roosevelt High School in 2008, and it was required that I complete a senior project (basically a thesis, but for high schoolers). My topic was “The Solution to Pollution.” I went around to numerous beaches, I collected bits of plastic, trash and even took photos of objects that were out of my league to recover. I met with a teacher at the University of Washington (I cannot remember her name it has been so long) and she showed me the effects of oil spills and helped to shed some light on pollution issues. I then collected all my findings and put together a poster board filled with pictures and bits of trash I had collected. I presented the completed project to several teachers; luckily they loved it!

Eight years later, I find myself once again coming back to polluted oceans. You may ask yourself — “why the huge gap?” Honestly, I got caught up in life; I was in a job that took up a lot of time and had some growing up to do. Recently I quit my full-time job (with much support from my wife) and decided to go back to school and study marine biology.

I have also recently made a few trips down to Edmonds beach. My wife and I walk for about an hour or more, and accumulate as much trash as we can. Normally one of us has a bag for trash and the other with one for items that can later be recycled. What I find does not surprise me: several bits of microplastics, larger bits of plastic, plastic bottles, plastic toys, plastic bags, plastic cups and lids. Then you have the trash: a crazy amount of cigarette butts (their filters made up of cellulose acetate, which is a form of plastic); small batteries (triple A, double A and even C and D): small bits of foam and the list goes on. I also kept coming across these pieces of thin metal (sizes vary). In a one-hour walk, my wife and I found over 138 different pieces of plastic –- at least the pieces I could count, and this does not include the cigarette butts. I tried to stay optimistic and tell myself that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be; then I remembered that we are nearing winter and not everyone is out at the beach. I figure once spring and summer roll around, my count of plastic bits will triple.

With my love for the ocean I have always wanted to educate people. Not necessarily become a teacher, but just to sit down with someone and talk about the issues regarding the ocean. I truly believe education is key because not everyone recognizes how polluted the ocean really is. I was recently approved to host a screening of a new documentary coming out in 2017, called “A Plastic Ocean.” The film educates the viewer on plastic debris and how deeply disturbing it is to our health and environment. I would encourage anyone willing to learn, listen and be a part of change to come and see this film on Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 6:30 p.m. at Regal Thornton Place Stadium 14 & IMAX 301 N.E. 103rd St., Seattle.

Readers can visit to learn more and watch the official trailer. If interested in seeing the film, you can purchase tickets at

We. as a community, need to be the voice of change and be mindful of how our actions affect the world. We, as a community, need to start coming together now. I hope to see you, your family and your friends at the screening.

— By Courtney A. Burrell

  1. It surely is a shame to see all the trash..not just at the beach but everywhere in general. The comment on the cigarette butts reminded me of a job I had at a winery in Woodinville in which one of us was tasked to sweep them up almost daily. Thank you for sharing and congratulations on taking the steps to pursue your new career.

  2. From the trailer, this looks like a well-made movie! We have just published a book about this, designed especially for elementary classroom use, “The Ocean Adventures of Pinni, Tursi & Mydas — Plastic Danger” :
    It is available on Amazon and we hope that people will help us get them into the classrooms in order to inspire young hearts and minds towards global stewardship. As dolphin researchers, we received emails from lots of school teachers, asking for materials to use in their classrooms to teach students about this important topic. So we created this book to provide teachers a much needed educational tool.

  3. What a heartfelt lesson to retain. I recall as a child walking the beaches in Oregon and seeing nothing but sand, shells, seaweed, various fish at times and all the normal stuff found in the ocean. Only once in a while did we find a something like a buoy or rope. Now, 50 years later, things are so different when walking on the beach. Thank you for sharing those photos and I hope folks remember “pack it in – pack it out”.

  4. With the recent restoration of the public pier, Edmonds and WSDFW had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to install a litter guard around the perimeter of the deck. They opted not to do so. The pier is one of the worst sites around for production of litter that ends up in the Sound: cigaret filters, fishing line, cups, plastic bottles, aluminum cans, glass, plastic food wrappers, bait containers, and the list goes on. A litter guard could still be installed, and should be. At this point it is going to take an upwelling of vocal support from Edmonds residents to demand a litter guard. If litter in the asound and litter on our beaches matters to you, let the City Council know

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