On the Fourth of July, Kodiak celebrated with the rest of the nation America’s independence from Great Britain. If my math is right, it was America’s 235th birthday. With the city’s fireworks display cancelled many people headed to the beaches and, aided by great summer weather, set off their own illuminations.

Many people, including my own family, actually celebrated into the Fourth of July, lighting the fireworks on the night of the third. I make sure to impress on my child that no matter what the occasion, we take out of the wilderness anything we brought there, so after the fireworks fun there was a lot of cleaning up to do. Luckily, I had help in this, from the fireworks store itself. In an effort to keep the litter out of Kodiak’s natural places the fireworks store awarded each bag of fireworks litter collected with $2 worth of new merchandise, a great program to give kids an incentive to collect what didn’t get burned in the displays.

Thus, we made a family activity of prowling the beaches on the Fourth of July with our bags, collecting hundreds of rockets, bunker busters, plastic rocket caps, Chinese chickens and cardboard and paper rolls from rocks, sand, seaweeds and tide pools. I picked several rocket heads out of tide pools at Mill Bay beach wondering what the small creatures in the tide pools would say about this invasion of their homes if they could speak to us. Along the waterline I noticed some cardboard rolls that had been unraveled and started to dissolve in the salt water, making papier mache. The tides had then plastered the papier mache to the barnacles and snails along the waterline. I wondered how long this plaster would prevent them from feeding.

The worst sight was at White Sands beach, however, where someone had set off a packet of bunker busters right in a small rivulet known to be a rearing area for salmon. We were not able to clean this up and I wondered whether the 1-inch red paper rolls would be mistaken by birds for tasty bits and eaten. It has been observed that of the plastic trash in the oceans that finds its way into animal stomachs a disproportionate number is red plastic, indicating that animals select for this color, probably because it looks like food to them.

The cleanup reminded me of a small story I once heard. It went like this: A man walks down a beach at low tide and there are hundreds of sea stars washed up high, drying out in the sun and left to die. As he walks along, he bends down every so often, picks up a sea star and tosses it back into the sea. Another man, who is also walking the beach observes this behavior for a while and finally approaches the first man with the words: ”Why are you doing this, you can’t save all the sea stars, your efforts don’t make a difference.” The first man looks at him, bends down and tosses one more sea star into the water. “It made a difference to that one,” he says and continues on his walk.

I have always loved this story and often think of it when problems seem too big to approach. It is the little things that each of us can do every day that will make our world a better place. My mother taught me to leave every place I use cleaner than I found it. If we all act like that, the added effect of our actions will make a difference in our lives. We should ask ourselves if we are part of the problems or part of the solution. The truth is we are both, but if we snowball the positive actions, we can make a difference locally and keep Kodiak the beautiful place that we have come to love. It doesn’t matter how young, how smart, or how rich you are; each of us can make a difference.

Making a difference and empowering students to take action is also the idea behind a Marine Stewardship Club, which will be offered to students in seventh through 10th grades as an after-school program in the coming school year. Information about this will become available at the Kodiak Middle and High Schools during the first two weeks of school or at the Ocean Science Discovery Lab.

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