A group of TMU international students voluntarily cleaned up the beach in Northern Taiwan, hoping that through their personal effort, they can help improve environmental and marine ecology protection while at the same time increase public awareness of environmental protection and reduce marine pollution.

The initiator of the beach cleanup is Elizaveta Parfenova (Liza for short) from Russia. Liza is a second-year doctoral student at the Graduate Institute of Mind, Brain and Consciousness (GIMBC), College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Liza said that environmental protection has being part of her daily life because of the influence of her parents since she was a child. In 2020, she joined SCUBAR, a scuba diving association, in a beach cleanup in Fulong Beach. Back in school, she responded to her teacher’s call to take action in plastic reduction, and decided to recruit her classmates, colleagues and teachers for beach cleanups.

To date, students from many countries have responded, including those from the United States, Russia, Spain, Indonesia, India, Chile, Estonia and Taiwan. They would go to Fulong Beach once a month to clean up. A large garbage bag can hold up to 20 kg of garbage. Generally, each student can fill up to 6 bags in one cleanup. With the number of students participating in each cleanup increasing, more and more marine debris is being cleared out.

Most of the garbage is plastic, such as PET bottles and fishing gears. Others include discarded utensils, broken porcelain plates, lighters, slippers, as well as fishing nets, styrofoam and other large waste items. Even animal carcasses have been found.

Students from many countries have responded

Philip Tseng (曾祥非), Vice Dean of the TMU College of Humanities and Social Sciences, pointed out that College of Humanities and Social Sciences has numerous environmental protection code of conduct. For example, disposable tableware and plastic products are not encouraged. Mugs are also available in the College so that students can avoid using disposable paper and plastic cups. Many of the teachers and students turn on only the desk lamps at their seats when they use their offices and laboratories to save energy and reduce carbon emissions. To mitigate the impact of global warming, the College offers only vegetarian food and encourages students to reduce plastic and be aware of the environmental impact of their diet.

Liza also tries to lead by example at school by promoting a low-waste lifestyle. For example, she tries to buy second-hand clothes instead of new one whenever possible, as well as not buying things that are not necessary or disposable. Additionally, Liza usually chooses to buy unpackaged fruits and vegetables, and provides her own containers for take-out food. She also tries to minimize animal products as much possible due to their environmental harm. “These “little things” in daily life are concrete actions for a low-waste life” Liza said.

Vice Dean Tseng said that for an international student to come to Taiwan and be able to spontaneously involve herself in sustainable lifestyle promotion and eco-friendly beach cleaning activities is not an easy feat. To encourage students’ beach cleanup activities, teachers would privately support the transportation expenses out of their own pockets. In the future, teachers and students will be invited to share their philosophy on beach cleanup to (1) attract attention to marine environmental problems, (2) share environmental information and suggestions based on scientific evidence, and (3) call on more people, especially those who can make changes in policies, to protect the environment.

Risa, a fellow student from Indonesia, said that after participating in the beach cleanup activities, she began to learn more about marine environment pollution and the harm suffered by marine organisms. Cleaning up beaches has not only allowed her to contribute her part to the environment, but also helped her extract herself from her busy graduate student life and recharge her body and mind.