The 25th Annual Earth Day Beach Clean-Up

Check out the photos from this year's clean-up!

2017 beaches included: 

Aquinnah: Lobsterville, Philbin, Tribal Beaches
Chilmark: Squibnocket, Menemsha, Lucy Vincent
Edgartown: Fuller Street, Lighthouse Beach, South Beach (Left & Right Fork), State Beach (Bend in the Road)
Oak Bluffs: Eastville Point, State Beach (Little Bridge), Town Beach (SSA to Inkwell)
Tisbury: Meet at Owen Park or the town landing on the Lagoon; volunteer leaders will then send people on to the nearby beaches, including Grove Ave Beach, Hines Point, the Lake Street landing, Tashmoo opening, Owen Little Way, and the VH harbor.
West Tisbury: Cedar Tree Neck, Lambert’s Cove


Special thanks to our sponsors:

M.V. Savings Bank   |   Harbor View Hotel

Josh and Angela Aronie | Cronig’s Market | Dippin' Donuts | Lucky Hank’s

Scottish Bakehouse | Sharky's | The Trustees | Tyson Foods | Vineyard Grocer


and our volunteer group leaders:
Church of Latter Day Saints, Cub Scout Packs 90 & 93, Friends of Sengekontacket, Girl Scout Jrs. Troop 69246 and Brownie Troop 66207, Harbor View Hotel, Lagoon Pond Association, MV Savings Bank, MV Surfcasters, MVY Radio, Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, Squibnocket Association, Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby, 
Tisbury Waterways,
 Town of Chilmark, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), Brian and Caroline Giles, Bruce Golden, Bill Randol

Scenes from the 24th Annual Earth Day Beach Clean-Up


To all those who helped make this year’s Vineyard Conservation Society 
Earth Day Beach Clean-Up the best yet: 
Thank You!

Extra special thanks to our sponsors:
Harbor View Hotel • MV Savings Bank • Scottish Bakehouse • Square Rigger  MVY Radio • The Pizza Place • Edgartown Pizza • Rocco’s • Vineyard Grocer
 . . . and to the event supporters:
Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury & West Tisbury DPWs • S.B.S.  MV Refuse District • Penny Uhlendorf & the VCS Board of Directors
 . . . and to our beach supervisors and volunteers:
Suzie Anderson • Mait Edey • Brian & Caroline Giles • Bruce Golden • Bill Randol  Church of Latter Day Saints • Comcast • Friends of Sengekontacket • Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts & Boy Scouts • Harbor View Hotel • Lagoon Pond Association • MV Savings Bank • MV Surfcasters • Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation • Squibnocket Association • Tisbury Waterways • Town of Chilmark • The Trustees of Reservations • Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) • MVY Radio • YMCA

2016 Beach List

Aquinnah: Lobsterville, Philbin, Tribal Beaches

Chilmark: Lucy Vincent, Menemsha, Squibnocket

West Tisbury: Cedar Tree Neck, Lambert’s Cove

Oak Bluffs: Eastville Point, State Beach (Little Bridge), Town Beach (SSA to Inkwell)

Edgartown: Fuller Street, Lighthouse Beach, South Beach (Left & Right Fork), State Beach (Bend in the Road), Wasque Point (Chappy)

Tisbury: Grove Ave Beach, Hines Point, Lagoon Pond Landing, Lake Street Landing, Owen Little Way, Owen Park, Tashmoo Opening, VH harbor (SSA to RM Packer)

Thanks in no small part to the beautiful late April weather, the 24th annual VCS Earth Day Beach Clean-up saw a record number of volunteers. In just two hours, 300 people spread out over 24 beaches, collecting 150 bags of trash, plus 3 truckloads of larger and/or more toxic debris (like still-full oil containers). The most common items found were the usual suspects: plastics of all kinds (bags, bottles, wrappers, etc), balloons and their strings, beer bottles and nips, cigarette butts, and fishing gear.
 
Nothing too strange turned up this year, apart from a pirate sword and some crime scene tape, but there were some interesting patterns. At Squibnocket, the most common item was not cigarette butts, but lighters – lots and lots of lighters! Down-Island, the most highbrow trash was found at Edgartown’s beach between Fuller Street and the Lighthouse: very little plastic of any kind, but many beer and wine bottles.


Historical Perspectives

Earth Day 1970

by Bob Woodruff

There was a lot of energy and excitement around the nation and the world leading up to the first Earth Day, 43 years ago. Here on the Island, the newly fledged VCS was looking for a project that would make a splash – ideally, one that would also have a long-term impact. Recycling was a new concept, and seemed like a good one to promote on this special day. If my memory serves me, the Town of West Tisbury had already made a commitment to recycling by building concrete bins at “The Dump.” Some of us still call it “the dump,” and in those days it was just that, an open pit into which everything, including the proverbial kitchen sink would be tossed. Once, a lovely Victorian bathroom sink was carefully placed at the brink of the pit by someone who hoped it would be “recycled,” and it has graced our home ever since!

So, the plan for Earth Day was to have a couple of dozen high school students pull my giant ox cart from Owen Park in Vineyard Haven to Edgartown, via the State Beach in Oak Bluffs, and collect as much roadside litter as possible. The recyclable items (mostly beverage bottles and cans) would be separated from the trash and trucked to the new West Tisbury bins.

It was a beautiful April day, cool and clear, with the air filled with kids’ laughter and the rumble of the iron-shot wheels. The students were full of energy and committed to make a difference. They pulled the cumbersome cart for hours and filled it several times with bottles, cans, and trash from the roadside. Every time it was filled, a pickup would back up to it, make the transfer, and race off the dump. We didn’t quite make it to downtown Edgartown, but we got as far as Trapp’s Pond on the south end of the State Beach by sunset. We must have collected a ton of glass and metal. And so was born a new concept of what is “trash” and what is a “resource” on this island, with its limited space for waste of any kind. Most important of all, a new generation of Islanders learned how to make a lasting, positive impact on their environment.

Growth of a Tradition

by Penny Uhlendorf

Though the first known Martha’s Vineyard Earth Day Beach Clean-up was conducted in 1970, the continuous string of annual clean-ups began in the early 1990s, following the 20th anniversary of the original Earth Day.

In an effort to re-kindle the interest and enthusiasm from the Earth Day 20th Anniversary Fair at the MV Regional High School in 1990, I decided to organize the first Island-wide Earth Day Beach Clean-up in 1992, cleaning ten of our Island’s beaches with the help of many volunteers. VCS was an important sponsor, as were the Martha’s Vineyard Savings (nee Co-operative) Bank, Martha’s Vineyard Surfcasters Association, the Lagoon Pond Association, and the Martha’s Vineyard League of Women Voters.

The next year, VCS took ownership of the event as the primary sponsor. I continued to organize the beach clean-up on their behalf until 2004, at which time VCS took on management duties. VCS continued the expansion of the event’s reach and community participation, culminating in this year’s anniversary. Over these twenty years the clean-up has grown in volunteer participation, organizational strength, number of beaches, and sheer volume of garbage collected. While the event has grown and changed considerably over the years, the support of several organizations and individuals has been of such long duration as to warrant special mention: The Lagoon Pond Assn. and Margaret Curtin, MV Surfcasters and Tom Robinson, former VCS board member Bob Berry, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), the Unitarian Universalist Church and Janet Holladay, the MV Savings Bank, Friends of Sengekontacket, Chuck Ratté, the MV League of Women Voters and Mary Miller, the Great Pond Foundation, Island Paddle Tours, the Girl Scout Juniors and Tammy Perry, and many other scout groups, including Brownie Troops 523 and 779, Cub Scout Packs 90 and 93 and Den 4, Chilmark Girl Scouts, and Daisy Troop 129.

What We Find

The Most Common

The most common items found are bottles and cans, balloons, other small plastics, fishing gear and lobster traps, rope and nautical jetsam, cigarettes, scrap metal, polystyrene foam, and wood debris. Taken together, the various types of plastics make up the vast majority of garbage collected. Among all that plastic, one particular item is possibly the most aggravating regular find at the Clean-Up: the escaped balloon.

The Most Peculiar

But over the years, we've also found a pickup truck tailgate, a boat seat, other car and boat parts, an oven, a lawnmower, a big-screen TV, medical waste, and sewage treatment discs. And then, there's this one . . .

Message in a Bottle

by Brendan O'Neill & Jeremy Houser

Perhaps the most unusual find during the twenty years of Earth Day beach clean-ups involved VCS board member Penny Uhlendorf, her son Karl, and our Executive Director Brendan O’Neill.

In April of 1997, Brendan and his wife Linsey Lee discovered a test tube on the beach near Lake Tashmoo in Tisbury. Inside was a message with a name and address, to which Penny responded promptly on behalf of VCS.

A reply was received from Jon Skillman, a student in a Marine Biology class at Newton North High School. Jon had released the test tube from the Woods Hole ferry into Vineyard Sound as part of his experiment to plot patterns in the currents around Martha’s Vineyard. Some 2,000 test tubes were released, and over the course of weeks he received responses from about 350 people who had found his experimental tubes.

From Jon’s letter:

The most unusual response I received was from someone who claimed to have found a test tube in the Detroit River in Michigan. Until your letter arrived, that is. What is unusual about your letter is that my experiment was conducted in 1973, and this is the first response in well over 20 years. By the way, I distinctly remember getting a response from a young boy named Karl Uhlendorf. Is he possibly a relation?

Penny’s son Karl did indeed discover one of those test tube messages. Today, Karl is 43 years old and walks the same beaches with his 5 year old son Charlie and 2 year old son Henry.

Why We Do It

Cleaning the Oceans Must Begin on Land

by Jeremy Houser

Cleaning up our planet’s five great garbage patches – incomprehensibly massive collections of plastic formed by large-scale ocean currents – is a popular goal for obvious reasons: they’re deadly to sea life, costly to shipping, and generally represent a disgusting reminder of the waste that inherently accompanies the convenience of plastic. However, efforts to directly clean the garbage patches face two enormous problems.

First, removing the plastic from these great oceanic vortexes (or gyres) has proven technologically difficult (many would argue impossible). The various creative techno-fixes proposed have all lacked for practical effectiveness, and some have not even been based on sound science. But we know that without some brilliant new technology, no amount of volunteers with pool skimmers are capable of handling this task: it is simply too huge.

Second, even if we could somehow remove and recycle the floating debris from the ocean, there is a more intractable problem beneath the surface. The ocean is powerful enough to break the plastic bottles, bags, sheeting, etc. down into tiny particles called microplastics, but lacks the ability to fully degrade them (a chemical breakdown that requires very high temperatures). The microplastics are then easily ingested by fish and other marine animals – a recent study estimates that fish in the northern Pacific ingest between 12,000 and 24,000 tons of plastic a year. Worse, it appears that the plastic particles absorb toxic chemicals which can then move up the food chain as predators eat the fish that ate the plastic (and then the fish that ate the fish, etc.). This process, known as bioaccumulation, ultimately results in the top-level predators – many of which we eat – having the greatest levels of toxins.

So where does that leave us? We could despair . . . or we could accept that we must start at the source and get to work. Don’t let so much plastic get into the ocean in the first place! For starters, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! Locally, VCS has helped reduce the plastic in our waste-stream through our recycling program for boat shrink-wrap, and working to get recycling containers placed at the Steamship Authority terminals and on-board the vessels. Globally, new programs and regulations can help as well, though it can be an uphill battle: many cruise ships, for example, now pulp or incinerate their garbage before dumping it at sea.

But most important, while the science is pessimistic about oceanic clean-ups, it brings hope to land-based efforts. About half the material in the garbage patches is spit out yearly, eventually ending up in another gyre or on a beach somewhere. Therefore, beach clean-up efforts not only reduce new inputs to the garbage patches but also chip away at what is already there. It really is possible to clean the great garbage patches, but it will be done gradually: through reduced input, collecting the material that’s spit out on beaches, and (unfortunate, but it still counts) processing through the food chain.

Protect Wildlife from Fly-Away Balloons

by Jeremy Houser

Few among us would just leave a balloon on the beach, but what many don’t realize is that once a balloon slips the surly bonds of Earth it usually travels a very long distance. (One balloon unleashed for a science fair experiment was retrieved on an island 1,300 miles from its release site.) Certainly this is a big part of why we release huge numbers of them at graduations and other important occasions: the symbolism of freedom and the promise of travel to unknown distant places.

With roughly 70% of the Earth’s surface covered by water, it’s no surprise that – unlike graduating seniors – a great many of these travelers end up coming to rest in the ocean, eventually becoming part of Earth’s five great ocean garbage patches, or simply more litter on beaches worldwide. And with this comes great threats to wildlife. This, from a Q&A in Audubon magazine, summarizes these threats well:

At best, free-flying balloons become litter; at worst, they jeopardize wildlife. . . . Balloons can choke, smother, or cause starvation. Their strings and ribbons can cause entanglement. In water, they bear an uncanny resemblance to jellyfish and other organisms eaten by turtles, fish, cetaceans, and shorebirds. Dead sea turtles have washed ashore with balloons hanging from their mouths, and scientists have found whole balloons and parts of balloons in whales during necropsies.


Scenes from the 23rd Annual Earth Day Beach Clean-Up (2015)

In the 50th year of VCS, it was the 23rd annual Earth Day Beach Clean-Up. 


2014: The 22nd Annual Earth Day Beach Clean-Up, in Pictures


Beach Clean-Up Wrap-Up 2013

A hearty thank-you is in order to all who braved distinctly sub-optimal weather to participate in the 21st annual VCS Earth Day Beach Clean-up. Over 200 volunteers helped clean 23 Vineyard beaches, providing a great environmental service, both local and global. Our greatest Island resource got a much needed spring cleaning through the removal of truckloads of garbage, much of which would have inevitably returned to pollute the world’s oceans and threaten marine life.

This year’s after-party was graciously hosted by the Harbor View Hotel and featured their own great food along with donated treats from Flatbread Co. and the Scottish Bakehouse. Thanks to them and our other major sponsors, M.V. Savings Bank, Comcast, and WMVY (who broadcast live from Eastville Beach). One volunteer deserves congratulations as well as thanks: as the winner of our Earth Day raffle, VCS member Julia Livingston of Cambridge and Edgartown will be taking home a copy of Oceans, a beautiful book/DVD/Blu-ray set by Jacques Perrin. Julia helped clean up Menemsha beach.  

Peeking under the tarp, 2013 edition
Following the big day, the three most common questions we hear from volunteers, supporters, and newspaper reporters alike are what sort of things were most often found, how much total was collected, and then some variation of “So what was the weirdest thing you found out there?”
 
We estimate about two tons in total was hauled away in what was nine or ten dump truck loads. As always, the most abundant items were small bits of plastic, beverage bottles and cans, and those infernal Mylar balloons, complete with their festive and wildlife-strangling ribbons. Common large items included car and boat parts, lobster traps, big pieces of Styrofoam, and lots of rope. The oddities this year (though they’re truly not that odd when viewed in the 21-year context of the event) were several deck chairs, a road sign, and large chunks of the wooden staircases that (used to) lead up to the top of the cliffs to the west of Lucy Vincent Beach.
 
Perhaps the strangest thing this year was not any particular item, but the huge disparity between the state of the beaches pre-cleanup. Volunteers at Lambert’s Cove reported that the beach was pretty clean when they got there, while just a couple miles away (as the gull flies, at least) at Lobsterville, despondent cleaners felt they hadn’t even make a dent in a terrible sprawl of garbage after two hours of hard work. (We’re pretty sure they’re just being modest, given what they hauled out – 20 full bags, and equally as much in loose rope and big junk – but it is unsettling.)

(Photos by Susan Safford, Patti Leighton, and Signe Benjamin)

2012: The 20th Annual Earth Day Beach Clean-Up, in Pictures

Thanks to everyone involved, from our sponsors and supporters to the volunteer groups and individual community members, for making the 20th Anniversary beach clean-up the most successful yet. Approximately 275 people came out and collected about 225 large bags of trash from 25 of our Island’s beaches. Afterwards, thanks to our very generous sponsors, including Comcast, Flatbread Co., MV Savings Bank, shirtsbyTed, Tisbury Wharf Co., and WMVY, the traditional after-party was considerably more lavish than usual, featuring free pizza and t-shirts for kids at the Tisbury Wharf.


The 19th Annual Earth Day Beach Clean-Up

  by DAVID NASH

The 19th annual Earth Day Beach clean-up can now be put to rest as a complete success. Although skies were sunny, temperatures didn’t make it out of the 40's and winds in the 20's and 30's made it feel much colder. Nevertheless, hundreds of individual volunteers showed up to clean beaches of accumulated trash. The effort this year officially covered 23 beaches but many other smaller beaches were also included by people just out for the day trying to make a difference. Over 25 organizations participated as well as many individuals who served as beach coordinators. This year could perhaps best be described as the year of the “scouts” as we had extensive participation by various scout troops all over the island. VCS board members and staff served as beach coordinators, roaming photographers and trouble shooters generally trying to help out where ever possible. Other organizations such as the Trial Court Community Services Program, the Lagoon Pond Association and Tisbury Waterways, Inc. covered multiple beaches throughout the day. TWI and the various groups which they work with provide this service for many Tisbury beaches throughout the year.

Board member Ginny Jones reported on the Lobsterville Beach clean-up as follows. “My grandsons ages 6 and 8 plus a 5 year old friend picked up much of Lobsterville Beach with the assistance of three volunteers (seasonal residents of Aquinnah) this morning. Although the wind was out of the east and reputed to be "only" blowing 25 with gusts in the 30's with the full fetch of Vineyard Sound behind, the breeze felt more like a gale. Tide was high but at least we didn't have rain. It still felt like an Outward Bound Expedition. Fortunately the boys are old enough to work unsupervised because I stayed by the truck in the hopes of snagging anyone who drove by. We left when my pick up was full and overflowing -- mostly pieces of netting but also a pillow (rare in winter), fishing tackle (4 lures), a lot of the usual trash, one horse shoe crab shell (haven't seen one of them recently).”

 

Many of our larger beaches and some smaller ones too reported 20 to 30 bags of trash picked up. Close to 300 bags of trash were collected. Pick-up trucks and dump trucks provided by local highway departments were filled to overflowing. The more common pieces of trash still seem to be the small liquor bottles (“nips”), beverage containers, water bottles and balloons. Certainly some of those balloons drift in from off-island but we would hope that anyone living on the island of Martha’s Vineyard would be sensitive enough to the potential impacts on marine life to avoid using balloons for advertising or celebrations and if they simply have to have them at least make sure they don’t “escape”. The involved scout troops were especially concerned about the balloons and are planning some follow-up discussions on what could be done about it. The more unusual list of items included television sets, a copy machine, propane tanks (especially large numbers of these!), a microwave oven, gasoline cans, bicycles, tires of all sizes, a couple of computer monitors (one smashed), a demolished air conditioner, a completely rusted hulk of a window fan, a smashed-up dinghy, plastic fishing line and net, a Christmas tree, and plywood. 

Those who were up for a party headed over to SBS where a barbeque was provided for all. The food was wonderful and there was plenty of it. Many people and businesses contributed to the success of the 19th annual Earth Day Beach Clean-up. We of course need to thank SBS for once again hosting the after event barbeque but our less obvious supporters also help to make this a successful community project. These include our major sponsors; the Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, Farm Neck Golf Club, Allied Waste Services and Riley’s Reads. Lastly, we need to thank the highway departments of the towns of Oak Bluffs, Edgartown and Tisbury for providing trucks and hauling away collected materials and the Martha’s Vineyard Refuse District for providing free disposal of beach debris.

Thanks again and we hope to see all of you again next year!

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