2005-09-23 / Columnists

On The Bayfront

By Elisa Hinken

I had a wonderful and unique experience this past weekend. I participated in the 20th Annual International Coastal Clean-Up Day by acting as a Site Coordinator during a clean up at our local fishing hole. As a Site Coordinator for the first time, it was definitely a learning curve. Next year I’ll get local stores to donate food and drinks to the cause because it gives everyone a boost of energy and engages those who weren’t going to participate, a chance to jump into the activities once they see you are providing free refreshments. It was also an opportunity to hand out pamphlets to those who were asking questions. This is a new experience for me, but it certainly won’t be my last.

Marine and other aquatic debris is more than an unsightly inconvenience for beach-bound vacationers, fishing enthusiasts or pleasure boaters; it is one of the world’s most pervasive pollution problems affecting our waterways. By the simple process of moving from ship to sea, sewer to surf, or hand to sand, any manufactured material becomes marine debris. Cigarette and cigar filters, fishing line, disposable diapers, tampon applicators, six-pack holders, bottles and cans, syringes, tires – the litany of litter is as varied as the products available in the global marketplace, but it all shares a common origin. At a critical point, someone, somewhere, mishandled it – either deliberately or thoughtlessly. Every piece of litter has a person’s face behind it.

Our results were interesting. We used data cards to list what was collected. If volunteers since 1986 had never categorized and counted the debris items that they found, beach cleanups would have just faded away. Volunteer data collection efforts have continued to change the way people think about the ocean and its ability to handle society’s wastes! Sure enough, just like the guidelines stated, we had the following items, in order of most collected as follows: cigarettes/cigarette filters, bags, caps and lids, food containers/wrappers, cups, plastic beverage bottles, glass beverage bottles, straws, aluminum cans (can’t believe they were laying right there when people looking for cash recyclables are always picking through the garbage!)

The DEC operates many fishing access points in upstate New York. They have a policy of “carry in/carry out”. An unspoiled setting greatly adds to most people’s enjoyment of their total angling experience. Too often litter identifies popular fishing spots and often some of this litter such as bait containers, lure packaging and discarded monofilament line is undeniably associated with the presence of anglers. When you leave garbage behind, you not only affect wildlife— you also leave the impression that anglers are thoughtless. Affected landowners may close the area to fishing. So, be responsible and be try to leave the area you visit even cleaner than when you arrived. It also cuts down on the ability to lure wild animals to the site to scavenge for food. I for one wouldn’t want to come across the path of a black bear going through the garbage! We always keep plastic bags in the car for uses such as these.

I think the bottom line to this international effort is to educate oneself and others about man-made pollution and its effects on the environment. When others see you doing your clean-up activities (as what happened to us), they ask questions and enter into productive conversations about pollution. The bottom line is we are all spokespeople for the environment. We can be this earth’s best friend or worst enemy.

Many thanks to Barbara and Mickey Cohen from the American Littoral Society and Don Riepe for his OysterCatcher newsletter, which always gives me inspiration. A special thanks to Larry Oliver for his great assistance and friendship. Oh yes, a big thanks to my long-suffering husband Al who always gracefully follows through with everything I volunteer him for.

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