Growing up in Jacksonville, Florida, Joy Hawkins always had a fondness for nature and the ocean. The Atlantic coast near Jacksonville is as picturesque as it gets, with miles upon miles of pink and white sand intermingled with crushed seashells and the occasional shark’s tooth. However, Joy also saw the impacts of discarded litter and nutrient and pollutant runoff on the beaches she loved, and the coast became a place she was passionate about protecting. During her senior year at the University of Florida, Joy worked at a sea turtle rescue center on the coast of Mexico and gained experience with a new set of environmental challenges, and after graduation enrolled at Oregon State University’s Master’s program in Marine Resource Management. During her time at OSU, Joy dove more deeply into research and policy questions, but also worked on the best ways to communicate environmental issues to the public.
This latter interest led to her current position as a Program Manager with SOLVE Oregon, a nonprofit group based in Portland that organizes volunteer cleanup events across the state. Started in 1969 by Governor Tom McCall, SOLVE will celebrate 50 years of beach cleanups and restoration work next year. Joy works with over 200 volunteer leaders from all walks of life, from Girl Scout troops and high school students to local watershed councils and concerned citizens, to organize 900 beach and river cleanups per year that gather a stunning 400,000 pounds of trash. According to Joy, a big part of why these events have been so successful for so long is the “common thread” that binds Oregonians together. “Pride in our state and our beautiful, unique ecosystems.” Oregon was one of the first places in the world to have a statewide beach cleanup, and Oregonians across the state are willing to take time out of their busy schedules to organize cleanups and protect these natural areas. Joy’s favorite part of moving to Oregon and working for SOLVE has been “learning how easy it is to make a difference in your own community, whether it’s picking up a single bottle cap or being a part of the annual cleanup.”
Joy’s work on plastic pollution has taken her across the world and all along the Pacific Rim, including trips to Hawaii and Hong Kong, and she sees plastic pollution as a global problem that affects each continent. “We’re all in this together, and marine debris affects all of us.” Like all global problems, however, there’s no better place to start solving this problem than the local, and Joy is enthusiastic about just how easy it is to get involved and start making a difference, whether it’s getting involved in beach cleanups, reducing your own plastic use, or helping to educate and lead others about plastic pollution and the work we can all do to protect our oceans.