The sandy, sunny Canoa lies on the western coast of Ecuador. With three dollar meals, hammocks in abundance and great waves, some would call it paradise. I am one of them.

Last April, Canoa was devastated by a 7.8-magnitude earthquake. Although the tremble only lasted 52 seconds, the homes of many came tumbling down, along with restaurants and small businesses. 90% of Canoa was destroyed. Out of the 5000 total people who reside in Canoa, it is believed that 37 lives were lost. One month later, a 6.7-magnitude aftershock struck.

Nearly a year has gone by and from an outsiders perspective, the town has done a great job getting back on its feet. But with hurt in their hearts everyone kept saying, “you should have seen what it was before.”

Canoa was the first place on our journey that we truly stayed. We came for the waves, but within hours of our first day, had met some surfer friends- down here the word is “pana.” Right off the bat, we saw Canoa in a new and deeper way. Let’s just say we stayed longer than expected.

We sought out a place to rent boards and found Kiki, Happy Happy Kiki. I was explaining to him what I do for work and where I am from. Turns out, he knew of Surfrider Foundation.

Our common ground was an extreme distaste for litter on the beaches. So when we decided to stay we organized a “minga,” a union or get-together to clean up the beach. That weekend we rallied some local surfistas and held the beach cleanup. We came back with three trash bags full of litter. I know that doesn’t sound like a lot, but when the majority of what you are finding includes bottle caps, cigarette butts, and plastic straws, that equates to hours of work chasing microplastics.

We poured the content of our bags out to see exactly what kind of litter plagues the beaches. We found everything from metal spoons to mannequin dolls. But the most common litter is composed of the things we use just once. Straws. Plastic caps. Cigarette butts. Plastic bags and bottles. Maybe we need to teach people that when you throw something away, it doesn’t go anywhere.

There’s a culture here, “out of sight, out of mind.” If you pack it in, you are not concerned with packing it out. And I can see where that comes from. When litter was banana peels and avocado pits, that was okay. But leaves aren’t used to package goods anymore. For a lot of the world, plastic is a new thing. But for the whole world, every plastic product that was ever made or used, in one way or another, still exists. I can’t say things differ much in the states, but we do have the luxury of alternatives.

We ended the minga with a group surf in Canoa’s beach break. And once we got out of the water we brought our trash to Hotel Bambu, who gives you a free cocktail for every bag of litter picked up from the beach. We proudly enjoyed capirinhas, without straws (sin sorbetes), of course.

We made it out to the beach the following day, and found all of our hard work reversed. There were piles of plastic cups and beer bottles and food wrappers. We wearily walked through the litter and picked up what we could below the high tide line. I guess the moral of the story is to do what you can. Do your part, consider your impact, live by example, try to educate those around you, and for the love of god, deny straws.

Long live fresh starts, and long live the beach.