Biarritz is a beautiful coastal town in southwest France known for its amazing surf and striking rocky coastlines. But, like the beaches we frequent all over the world, the plastic pollution on the Basque coast is very real. Our digital designer, Becca Kudela, has been collecting trash and treasures on la Grande Plage and other various beaches all over Europe since the first week she moved there, over six years ago. After several years of combing European beaches, she started Sea & Gather, a fun creative outlet where she makes art out of her beachcombing finds to bring awareness to the impact of plastic pollution in our oceans. We caught up with her for a little inspiration and some tips and tricks on how to be better on and off the beach…




What made you first start Sea & Gather?



I've been beachcombing for as long as I can remember - I used to go often in San Diego, Huntington Beach and Long Beach before we moved to France. After the move to Biarritz, I started beachcombing here when I was really homesick - doing an activity near the ocean that I was familiar with helped me feel like I was 'home', especially at a time when everything felt so foreign. As I searched more and more, I started to find more interesting objects on the beach here than I used to find in California (really old pieces of pottery, porcelain doll heads, sea glass in rare colors), and out of excitement I started to create flat lays and post them on Instagram to share what I found with my friends back home. I loved this process so much, and with the encouragement of a few friends, it inspired me to create an account specifically dedicated to this so I could more fully tell the story of what was washing up out of the ocean.


What started as a way to share my 'treasures' very quickly evolved into also wanting to help bring awareness to the plastic pollution problem the ocean is experiencing. For every single piece of sea glass I find, there are at least 500 pieces of plastic that wash up with it, and once I realized this, it was shocking. Seeing the amount of plastic freshly washing up on the beaches every day is devastating when you see it firsthand, and especially when you see WHAT types of objects wash up. Things that you would NEVER expect to end up in the ocean are in fact ending up there, so now I like to use Sea & Gather as a platform to communicate this. I always think of that expression, 'out of sight, out of mind'... unless you SEE what is polluting the waters, it's easy to forget about the problem, or think 'it's not my problem to deal with'. But for me, when I see that plastic objects from our everyday lives are making their way into the sea (razors, q-tip sticks, tampon applicators, bottle caps, kids toys, lighters, shampoo bottles, etc.), it makes me realize that choices I make in my daily life CAN in fact, have a direct impact.



What are some things you find / have found? // Favorite thing to find when your beach combing?



Some of the most common plastic 'trash' objects that wash up on the Basque Coast include lighters and cigarette filters, cotton-bud sticks, bottle caps, bio carriers , fake flowers, tampons, fishing lures, pieces of rope, toys, etc. My favorite 'treasures' to hunt for include sea marbles, sea glass in rare colors (pink, purple, red, blues, aqua, gray), old pottery, and it always makes me laugh when I find a doll arm, so now I've made a game out of seeing how many I can collect. And some of the strangest, most memorable things I've ever found have been a Belgium pistol from WWII in the tide pools at Grande Plage (I learned what type of gun it was after I turned it into the police), a message in a (plastic) bottle, and a bag of (sea) weed.



Any beach combing tips?






During low tide, early in the morning before anyone else is on the beach (or before the city cleans the beaches, if you live somewhere they do that - like the Grande Plage here in Biarritz). 



Most of the trash will stick on the beach along the highest tide line - you can usually spot a little line of trash, driftwood, and seaweed pieces in the sand - follow that line and you'll find so much stuff! If you live near a rocky beach, this is where you can often find 'treasures' like sea glass - objects of similar sizes and weights usually stick together.




I always try to bring two bags, one for trash and larger things that can be recycled (like water bottles), and another for treasures and objects I want to keep. I have some reusable fabric mesh bags that I use that my sister made for me -  mesh bags are great because the wet sand falls off the objects in the bag as they start to dry, and back onto the beach, instead of having the sand end up all over your car or house.  I've tried to make it a habit to always have a little beachcombing sac in my purse, work bag, beach bag, so even on days when I don't expect to beach comb, I'm always prepared if I end up at the beach. And if you can be really prepared, it's also a good idea to wear gloves to protect yourself, especially when picking up larger amounts of dirty trash (something I'm still working on getting better at).




It's really easy to get overwhelmed when you see how much plastic is on the beach, but just remember that even if you can grab a couple pieces, every little bit counts! A small handful after a surf session, or a few pieces when you're packing up and leaving after a beach day - if everyone does their part, it can add up quickly. Some days when I'm feeling overwhelmed I will choose a specific object to focus on, like 'today I will pick up all the cotton bud sticks I can find', or 'today I will pick up all the bottle caps I can find'... your eyes quickly adjust to that size and shape of object you're hunting for, and before you know it you've picked up 250 cotton bud sticks off one beach! Even if it's just 5 small pieces of trash, that's something! Start small and you will realize how just those few pieces can evolve to influence the rest of your life.



Do you keep some of the things you find or do you mostly recycle / throw them away after picking them up?



I try to recycle the larger objects if I can, like water bottles, and bigger pieces of plastic, but a lot of times the trash I pick up, like food packaging, plastic bags, etc. is so gross and slimy from the sea, it can't be recycled and has to just get thrown away. As of now I have kept most of the smaller objects - almost everything in the photos on my Instagram account I still have... someday I want to have an art show and put it all on display so I'm saving everything. After I bring it home, I wash it all, let it dry in the sun, and then organize everything by color or type of object, and then store it in sealed jars (it really STINKS so I HAVE to store it in sealed containers).  I like to collect old jars that I find at local flea markets to use for storage.



I’m sure finding all this trash on the beach has made you aware of the impact of single use plastics. What are some ways you try to be environmentally friendly / reduce single use plastics in your life?



Yes! Seeing how much trash washes up every day has really influenced a lot of changes in my everyday habits. I started with a few small changes and year after year I change more and more. Overall, I've really worked on trying to consume less stuff. If I want to buy something, I really try to not impulse buy, and spend time to decide if I need it, or if I think I want it just because it's on trend or on sale. The less we all consume, the less waste we create, and the better for the planet.



A few other examples: I use beeswax wraps instead of plastic wrap when packing up leftovers or food, we use washable cloth napkins at home for all our meals (I've found a lot of great vintage cloth napkin sets at thrift stores and flea markets), I also have washable face cleansing pads, I stopped buying small toiletries when we travel and instead use refillable silicone bottles. When grocery shopping, we always bring our own bags (even smaller fruit and veggie bags) and always bring reusable water bottles.


I'm not always perfect and often fall short of my goals and am constantly working every day to make better choices with my purchases and consumption, but my love for the ocean and the beach is always a good reminder to keep working towards that goal!