Last summer I was walking along the beach of Bald Head Island, N.C., an area used as a nesting site for female loggerhead sea turtles.
We had just finished applying a satellite tracking device on a turtle's shell as part of a program to track turtles and determine why the species has continued to decline.
Enjoying the sand and sun, I was walking near the surf when I saw what I thought was a washed-up jellyfish. I was about to step around it when I realized it was a plastic bag.
Reaching down to pick it up, I admitted that I, a veterinarian, had confused this piece of translucent garbage with a living animal. Turtles, whose brains are about the size of a peanut, make the same mistake and end up dying of suffocation.
Trash and pollution are very real factors in the turtles' declining numbers. Researchers believe that sea turtles' survival odds are about one in a thousand.
These animals, who share our planet, reflect a larger problem.
One plastic bag can be blown from the streets of Cincinnati into the Ohio River. It then might drift to the Mississippi River and ride the waves in the Gulf of Mexico, only to impact the life of an endangered animal. One personal, local act can have global ramifications.
Considering this, accountability for our planet needs to start on a personal level. We can find scapegoats, but until we make changes in our own lives, we are unfit to place any blame.
The Environmental Protection Agency describes Earth Day, April 22, as a time to "recognize how far we've come and keep working on what still needs to be done."
Within my organization and within my own life, it is a reminder of the importance of conservation and common-sense solutions.
Pick up garbage on the street. It may be one plastic bag that changes the odds of survival for an animal.
One simple act can be the first step to improve the environment.
Tim Mullican is executive director of the Newport Aquarium.
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