Ann first participated in the Watershed Ride after she turned 60 because she wanted to prove to herself that she could bike 75 miles. (She did.) After experiencing the Ride’s relaxed, less competitive atmosphere, she chose to participate a second time, saying that it is “hugely encouraging” to take action to help improve water quality in places like New Bedford Harbor.
But her Watershed Ride experience began to take on a new meaning this past winter, when Ann attended a conference for fellow science writers in South Carolina. She was shocked to learn that over 500 million plastic straws are used each day in the United States alone. From there, Ann found out about the Surfrider Foundation’s aptly named Straws Suck campaign, which helped to eliminate plastic straws from all businesses in one community on the Pacific coast in Canada.
Why are straws and other single-use plastics so dangerous? As Ann puts it, “Plastics are essentially poison to the environment.” Over 44 billion pounds of plastic end up in the ocean annually, and each piece of plastic takes many years to degrade. Once it eventually does, it breaks up into smaller pieces. This harms the health of our oceans as well as marine life such as turtles and fish, which can mistake the plastic pieces as food. Plastic can’t be digested, so it fills up their stomachs – and the consequences are fatal. The fish who do survive may very well be caught and end up on your own plate.
Although well-known on the West Coast, initiatives like Straws Suck are only slowly gaining traction elsewhere in the United States. Ann vowed to bring the campaign eastward – beginning right here on Buzzards Bay through the Watershed Ride. By forming the team “Straws Suck,” Ann hopes to raise awareness of the dangers of single-use plastics and the damage they can do to places like Buzzards Bay. “I think people get complacent and believe they can’t make a difference,” she says. “But they can. It’s time to stop harming the environment and its wildlife and start helping it.”
Ann isn’t the only Watershed Ride participant finding new meaning in the Watershed Ride through the Straws Suck campaign: longtime Dartmouth rider Leslie Knowles, who has participated in every Watershed Ride since the event began 11 years ago, has also joined Ann’s team along with six other riders so far.
With less than two months to go until the Ride, Ann has already found success locally. She herself has given up all single-use plastics, and every time she goes out to eat, she makes a point to inform staff about the harmful effects straws have on the environment. “Their jaws drop when they hear how many plastic straws enter the waste stream each day, and many have said they’d try to help,” Ann says. Even South Dartmouth’s famous Cocktail Guru Jonathan Pogash has pledged to only use paper straws going forward.
People like you can help reduce the number of plastics in the environment, too. When out to eat, politely refuse the straw that’s offered with your next beverage. You can also ask your favorite restaurants to consider using paper straws or to adopt a “straws on request only” policy.
To Ann, participating in the Watershed Ride is a fun way to make a difference on an issue she cares about. Her goal is to grow her Straws Suck team to over 20 riders who’ll ride together on October 1.