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VCS and Coastal Zone Management Team up for Coastsweep

by Samantha Look

On October 13th and 14th, VCS helped coordinate a fall beach cleanup as part of Coastsweep, an annual statewide coastal cleanup. Coastsweep is sponsored by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management and is coordinated by The Urban Harbors Institute at UMass Boston. This was the 25th anniversary of their efforts. In 1987 they began with 391 volunteers and removed almost 2 tons of trash from 40 miles of coast. Over the years this has grown considerably; last year, close to 2,300 volunteers removed 9 tons of trash from more than 118 miles of coastline. Beyond just working to clean our state’s beaches, Coastsweep is part of the International Coastal Cleanup sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy in Washington, D.C. Each year, hundreds of thousands of volunteers gather worldwide at beaches, streams and lakes to clean marine trash and debris and record their findings on data cards. The Ocean Conservancy uses the information collected on these cards to create a huge database to better understand what behaviors and sources are leading to so much trash in the world’s oceans. With this they are better able to educate and develop policy to reduce the problem.

Something for all of us to remember when we spend a day at the beach is that the top ten types of trash found during past Coastsweeps – with the exception of rope, #5 – have been recreation and shore based, as opposed to coming from boating or ocean-based activities. The top five items found were:

  1. Cigarettes/cigarette filters
  2. Food wrappers and containers
  3. Caps/lids
  4. Plastic Bags
  5. Rope

From our experience this year here on the Island, balloons and ribbon were everywhere. The ribbons were often entangled around knobby driftwood making them a pretty incredible snare. These makeshift tangles seemed easy places for wildlife to become caught, especially if they were floating in the water. Pieces of plastic of all sizes and shapes were probably the most common items, but we also found oddities, such as a large 2 x 5 ft sheet of formica, the top from a lettuce spinner, and even a couple of hypodermic needles.

Each year VCS organizes a large beach cleanup in honor of Earth Day, but this is the first time they have been part of Coastsweep and the International Coastal Cleanup. Volunteers worked on sections of four beaches: Long Point, Edgartown Great Pond, State Beach and Lobsterville. Hopefully next year this will be expanded to include additional beaches and volunteers. VCS would like to thank Luanne Johnson, co-founder of Biodiversity Works, Andrenika Slade from The Nature Conservancy, and Matthew Hayden, den master of Cub Scouts Troop 93, each of whom coordinated one beach, gathering volunteers, recording data and disposing of the collected trash.

I personally would like to thank my family for sticking it out at Long Point/Quansoo Beach, where sideways wind-driven sand made the going much less than ideal, especially for volunteers under three feet tall. Our trash bags were literally shredding before we had left the parking lot, but we managed to collect three large bags and rescue one Monarch butterfly from complete obliteration, and my young son now has a deep appreciation for beach trash and the effort it takes to remove it.