Monday, October 3, 2016

International Coastal Cleanup Day

By Beth Sullivan
Every year, about the third weekend in September, groups of all ages hit the beach! No, not just a last ditch effort to squeeze in a few more minutes of summer fun, but a collective community effort to clean up the beaches and shoreline areas that were “well loved” all summer.
Gulls eat just about anything. A crab is far better than a piece of plastic.

Inevitably even the most natural of seaside areas bear the signs of summer-litter. In many cases it is the remains of picnics, parties, and events on the beaches themselves. In other cases, the litter has washed up on shore from being discarded out to sea. Some littering is possibly accidental: windblown bags fall into the water; Kids' lost balloons drift far from home and land in the water; Someone’s shoes, shirt, or hat flies off the deck and is irretrievable.
Plastic bags are some of the most dangerous types of litter.

Litter causes many problems

But so much litter is just pure laziness and lack of caring. Ignorance. Why people can’t take home their soda, water or other beverage bottles and cans, I don’t understand. Is it so hard to hold onto a coffee cup or sandwich wrapper and bag until you get home? So much stuff that is not biodegradable ends up in our oceans endangering wildlife. Probably only a small portion of it ends up on shore where it continues to cause problems. Gulls and other shore birds are particularly susceptible to the dangers from garbage on the beach: cigarette butts can be toxic; strings and ribbons and fishing lines entangle feet necks and wings; plastics choke and fill stomachs, frequently causing slow and painful deaths.
Rubber flip flops float and do not degrade. They would be around for many years if not collected.

So, back to the clean up. On that September weekend, groups spread far and wide along the coasts, and not just across CT but across the country and internationally.

Volunteers to the rescue

Locally, a group organized by Pine Point School teacher Gay Long and Save the Bay Volunteer Manager July Lewis, headed out to Sandy Point for partial school day of clean up. It takes some major effort to get students and boats all organized to get out to the Island and hope for good weather conditions. The original date, Sept 19, was rained out so the event took place on the next day.
Being safe on the beach included wearing PFDs and gloves. Photograph by Gay Long.

Seventeen students with seven adults spent an hour and a half walking the beaches of Sandy Point. It is approximately a three mile round trip. They collected over 36 pounds of trash in that short time, and they bagged it up and hauled it home. This year we didn’t get any reports of extra large objects. The USFWS had already dismantled a lean-too and picked up some party debris.
Garbage was bagged and hauled off the island. Photograph by Gay Long.

Sandy Point is a special place. It is cherished by generations of people from the area and most have learned to share the beautiful Island with the wildlife we strive to protect. It was a good summer for the shore birds, Oystercatchers in particular. But on our stewardship trips we saw several gulls with wing damage and feet tangles. Littering doesn’t help anyone or anything.
Kids have great eyes and are limber and bendable. Photograph by Gay Long.

We are truly grateful for the energy and effort of the younger generation who is coming up learning to be proactive in caring for the Earth. I will bet that, after cleaning up, those students will not be likely to littler themselves and will be more likely to pick it up and pack it out.
One of the groups of dedicated stewards. Photograph by Gay Long.

Thank you to Pine Point School, Save the Bay, and all volunteers who worked to clean up our coasts on International Coastal Cleanup day. Every little bit helps.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

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