WESTERLY — Volunteers will descend on beaches and shorelines in Westerly, Charlestown, and other municipalities throughout the state on Sept. 15 for Save The Bay’s annual Coastal Cleanup.
Save The Bay is coordinating the Rhode Island component of a global initiative, known as the International Coastal Cleanup, which last year attracted 800,000 volunteers to pick up trash and other debris from shorelines around the world. In Rhode Island, where statewide cleanups have taken place for 30 years, more than 2,600 people took part in 85 cleanups last year.
Shoreline trash was in the local spotlight earlier this summer, when concerned citizens took action to contain and dispose of trash on Misquamicut Beach.
As public awareness grows of the dangers of ocean debris, July Lewis, Save The Bay’s volunteer and internship coordinator said she was hoping that the heightened awareness of the hazards posed by trash to marine life would prompt an even greater number of volunteers to sign up this year.
“I’m really seeing a huge amount of energy around this issue right now,” she said. “I have huge respect for what the Misquamicut Waste Warriors have been doing. They just got really passionate about their particular beach, and I think that’s what it takes — people really being dedicated to their own little piece of shoreline and saying ‘It’s not OK to trash the bay.’"
In addition to ridding beaches of trash, the cleanup provides valuable data on the types and volume of the items collected.
“We’re actually recording what it is that we pick up, and all of that data is submitted to the Ocean Conservancy for its global report on marine debris,” Lewis said. “It really is a vital report. Anytime anybody does anything like policy work or testimony on the issue of marine debris, they reference this report.”
Plastics comprise the top 10 types of collected debris in Rhode Island and around the world.
“Basically, it’s all plastic right now,” Lewis said. “Everything’s being made out of plastic, and that’s what we’re fighting out there.”
Cigarette butts also top the list, with more than 4,300 collected last year in Westerly and Charlestown alone. Other commonly found items are bottle caps, plastic bags and plastic drinking straws.
Local cleanups will take place on Sept. 15 in Westerly and Charlestown and at the Weekapaug Breachway on Sept. 22.
“We always need more people, but it is growing,” Lewis said. “It seems to get a little bit bigger every year.”
Volunteers are asked to sign up on the Save The Bay website: bit.ly/ICC-RI, which also lists the locations and times of cleanups. People wishing to organize their own cleanups or those with questions should contact July Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org.