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The business of saving our beaches

Ann Jenkins.
Ann Jenkins. / CHRISTOPHER JENKINS
  • Ann Jenkins organised her first Playa Patrol beach cleanup on the Costa Tropical in October 2018. Since then she has gone on to set up a charity and use her business acumen to get local companies and organisations on board

Ann Jenkins is using her experience in the corporate world to help the Costa Tropical's beaches and marine life. She set up Playa Patrol, a voluntary organisation which organises cleanups on Granada province's beaches, in October 2018 and has ambitious plans to extend her project.

Ann, 54, moved to La Herradura from Toronto, Canada, with her husband, Christopher, three years ago. She says not only did the couple have "no intention" of staying in Andalucía, but she "did not come here with a big environmental mission", either. However, when speaking to her, the passionate environmentalist certainly appears to be on a a big mission: to clean up the beaches and educate people about the dangers to our planet, wildlife and ourselves of throwing plastics into the sea.

Hundreds of volunteers

The first Playa Patrol beach cleanup took place in October 2018 and Ann said she would have been "happy if around 50 people had shown up but 350 people came".

Since then others have taken place including another big event at the end of March of this year and two more are planned for 30 June and 22 September. "We planned the dates so that the June one takes place a week after San Juan and the September date coincides with International Coastal Cleanup Day," Ann explains. She hopes eventually to be able to add "every town" on the Costa Tropical to the organisation's world map, on which a gold star is added whenever a place participates.

With a background in organising large corporate events for major multinational companies in Toronto, Ann has applied business models to her strategy for getting people involved and taking ownership of the project. Instead of spreading the word on her own, Ann has recruited 10 "team captains". Each person is responsible for nominating a co-captain and finding between 10 and 15 friends to join their team. Ann explains the reason behind the co-captain idea is that many foreign residents don't live in Spain all year round, so between them they should be able to participate in and recruit for, all of the events.

"I base this on what is known as the Breck model. It was a make of shampoo back in the 1970s. The idea was that two friends recommended a shampoo to four of their friends and so on. Eventually the product grew," Ann explains.

She also has "Ocean Ambassadors" and "Ocean Guardians", all of whom have roles and responsibilities. Of course Ann is entirely dependent on voluntary support and has recently set the organisation up as a registered Spanish charity. Furthermore, she has the backing of a number of the beach restaurants in La Herradura and Almuñécar and collaborates with the president of the chiringuitos association.

"Dealing with plastics on the beach has to include the bars. They form part of the beach and we're working with them to start using biodegradable straws and replace other single-use plastics items," she says. She's even managed to get some of the bars on board to host events at the end of the beach cleanups. "They are really social events with a real mix of nationalities," Ann says, smiling.

Different beaches have different plastics issues Ann explains: in tourist destinations the big problem is rubbish that people leave on the beach; in agricultural areas there is a big problem with plastics from greenhouses; and in fishing zones, the problem is nets and other items used by the industry, which get discarded into the sea and illegal dumping is a problem along the coast.

The local town halls' environment departments are on board and Ann has managed to get local schools involved in the project. She has her work cut out as word spreads about Playa Patrol; more and more people are contacting her to ask her if she can clean up other areas. "I now seem to be responsible for all beaches, everywhere," Ann laughs. "I get phone calls from the town hall asking if I can clean up river beds and all sorts."

While Ann has big plans and vision for the future, she says she wants to "focus on the Costa Tropical" at the moment. She's looking into getting funding and support from local and international companies and building a model that works. "It's a huge learning curve," she confesses, but with her passion and determination, Ann and Playa Patrol look set to change hearts and minds locally and beyond. She has even designed cartoon characters for the school education aspect of the project; Lola the flamenco-dress wearing octopus, Pedro the hat-wearing fish and a water droplet, a yet unnamed character who will be the subject of a kids' competition to give it a name.