The goals of this year’s coastal cleanup are the same as previous years’: Remove trash from Rhode Island’s coastline and raise public awareness of the prevalence of marine debris.
However this year, because of COVID-19, the format will be slightly different, with smaller cleanup groups and new ways to participate.
Coordinated by Save the Bay, the Rhode Island cleanup, which takes place from September to November, is part of the International Coastal Cleanup organized by the Ocean Conservancy, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.. Volunteers around the world remove trash from coastlines, document what they collect, and the conservancy publishes an annual report on the quantities and types of trash removed from coastlines.
This year in Rhode Island, in accordance with state COVID-19 guidelines, the cleanup teams are limited to 15 volunteers per team, and many of the teams are already full. But Save the Bay’s volunteer and internship manager, July Lewis, said new initiatives have been added this year that will allow more people to participate.
“We also have some alternative ways for people to get involved,” she said. “We have storm drain-marking projects, where people mark their curbs with markers that say ‘Don’t dump. Drains to the bay,’ or ‘drains to the shore.’”
People can also get involved by going to the Clean Swell app and logging the trash they collect on their own.
“People can do their own individual cleanup on their daily walk or something, they can record what they find, and everything they record goes straight to the Ocean Conservancy and Save the Bay and it’s part of our annual report on marine debris,” Lewis said.
Despite reports of discarded masks and gloves littering waterways and posing a threat to wildlife, Lewis said the types of debris collected so far in Rhode Island seem to be the same as in past years.
“The Ocean Conservancy actually added PPE [personal protective equipment] in their Clean Swell app for people to record data,” Lewis said. “What I’ve found so far in my cleanup is that we’ll find a few, but it’s really not that many. It’s still the bottles, the wrappers, the cigarette butts that predominate. But we’re definitely seeing masks out there.”
In Rhode Island, cigarette butts topped the list of collected items in 2018, accounting for a quarter of all debris collected. Small fragments of plastic constituted 28 percent of items collected.
The situation did not improve in 2019. Cigarette and cigar butts made up 25% of the collected debris and plastic and foam pieces, or “tiny trash,” accounted for 27%. Microplastics are a particular concern in the world’s oceans because they are ingested by plankton, fish and other marine life, some of which is in turn consumed by humans.
Lewis said she was excited to be including new activities in this year’s cleanup.
“You have to reinvent things, and you get some new and exciting things coming out of it,” she said. “I’ve never done so much storm drain marking as I’ve done this year, because it’s a great alternative way to get involved where you don’t have to be in a crowd. It’s more like an individual/family volunteer project.”
Rhode Islanders wishing to get involved in this year’s cleanup activities, including the storm drain project and Clean Swell, are asked to log on to Save the Bay’s volunteer page at http://savebay.galaxydigital.com/user/register/.