Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Talking Trash: The International Coastal Cleanup

By July Lewis, Volunteer and Intern Manager

Everyone loves a shoreline cleanup. What could be a more simple, satisfying way to make a difference? Save The Bay holds cleanups around the state from Earth Day to Thanksgiving. But the International Coastal Cleanup, managed by Save The Bay in Rhode Island, takes shoreline cleanups to a whole new level. 

Not only is this part of a massive global effort, with over 560,000 volunteers in 91 countries picking up 16 million pounds of trash, but this cleanup is also special because we record what we find and publish it in an annual report on marine debris. 

Why do we record what we find? It’s a good question, because cleanups definitely go faster if we’re not collecting data. But the numbers are so powerful that it doesn’t make sense not to. The data help us understand the problem, communicate the problem, and empower communities to do something about it. 

Understanding Marine Debris: Where Does It Come From? 

  1. Shoreline Activity. International Coastal Cleanup data shows that the primary source of such individual litter items as food wrappers, beverage cans, plastic bags and straws, is shoreline activity. The number one item collected is cigarette butts. In Rhode Island in 2014, 41,803 butts were picked up, amounting to 33 percent of all items collected. While much of this is littered directly on the beach, items thrown into the street many miles away are washed into storm drains, which empty into our waterways. 
  2. Boating and Fishing. Ropes, fishing nets and lobster pots can be lost in storms or accidentally cut loose by a propeller. They may also be intentionally and illegally disposed of in the ocean. And while this type of debris makes up a small percentage of items found on the ICC, it often makes up a big portion of the weight and volume of trash collected. These items can also be among the most hazardous and are a major cause of entanglement for birds, turtles, whales and other larger marine life. International Coastal Cleanup volunteers actually record entangled animals that they find, and the culprit is nearly always fishing line. 
  3. Dumping. Tires, mattresses, auto parts and construction debris are all signs of dumping by irresponsible individuals who want to avoid the inconvenience or cost of proper disposal. We find these items on isolated shoreline areas where people can sneak up and dump without being seen. Again, these items are fewer in number but tend to weigh a lot! 
  4. Tiny Trash. A growing problem with shoreline debris is that there is so much trash entering the water that it is literally becoming part of the beach. A new feature of the ICC data sheet is recording unidentifiable bits of plastic, foam or glass less than 2.5 cm in diameter. Last year in Rhode Island, volunteers picked up 32,301 tiny bits. 

Communicating the Problem 
At the end of the day, Save The Bay’s mission is to protect and improve Narragansett Bay. And that means changing the behavior of people who litter, dump and cut loose items that pollute our waters and endanger humans and marine life. Because of the special nature of the International Coastal Cleanup—a truly global effort that occurs right in our backyard—we can really highlight the issue, generate media coverage, and get people thinking about the issue. Save The Bay has tallied our statewide results and published a report with our findings. International Coastal Cleanup is an opportunity for parents to talk to their kids about littering, and for communities to band together and take stewardship of their beaches. Spreading the word helps us to reinforce the ethic that it is never okay to litter, ever. 

Do Something About It 
Raising awareness is certainly a key to litter reduction, and sometimes communities need to take action on a policy level. All over the world, policy makers rely on data from the International Coastal Cleanup to craft and support their proposals—for bans on plastic bags and smoking at beaches, litter ordinances, redesign of products to reduce entanglements, and more. 

Marine debris is a global issue, one that unites us all. In Rhode Island, South Africa, Hong Kong—we all want clean shorelines. Join Save The Bay in making that vision a reality. 

  • Defibrillator pads 
  • Unopened bag of medical marijuana 
  • Traffic cone 
  • Flonase 
  • Sword box (the box that a sword came in) 
  • Glowsticks 
  • Live eel in a bag 
  • Test tube 
  • $25 
  • Christmas lights 
In order to offer more cleanups, we need more leaders! Sign up for shoreline cleanup leader training on Saturday, March 19, 10 a.m.-noon at 100 Save The Bay Drive in Providence. Assist Save The Bay with our 2016 cleanups or plan your own in your neighborhood. Contact July Lewis at for more information or to sign up.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Not Your Typical Classroom

By Bridget Prescott, Director or Education

Dressed in layers and armed with water bottles, sunscreen and bug spray, 20 Providence fourth-grade teachers head out on Narragansett Bay aboard the M/V Elizabeth Morris. They’re joined by Save The Bay educators, as well as Brown University scientists Dave Murray and Joe Orchardo, who provide a full-day, hands-on lesson on water quality. Tomorrow, the Providence teachers will head to Prudence Island for an in-depth look at the salt marsh and its functions and features. And on two additional days, they’ll develop lesson plans for their students based on their experiences. 

Teachers from Carl G. Lauro Elementary
School in Providence doing watershed
activities they can take back to their classrooms.
“In all my years in Providence, this was the best professional development I’ve ever been involved in,” said Bridget Richardson, a fourth-grade teacher at Young/Woods Elementary School. “It is difficult to put into words exactly how much I learned during this experience. The instruction we received has given me the confidence to teach my students more about where we live and all of the amazing things going on around us.”

It’s all part of a Save The Bay program called Project Narragansett Teacher Academy, and this is the three-year Providence Schools edition. For the last two years, fourth-grade teachers from Providence Public Schools have been coming to Save The Bay’s Bay Center in Providence for four days of hands-on professional development focused on Narragansett Bay. In August, the third group of teachers joined us for our final year of the three-year program, which is funded by a grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s B-Wet Program.

Working in close collaboration with Donna Casanova, the school district’s science coordinator, Save The Bay educators have developed a high quality, interdisciplinary curriculum consistent with the Providence Schools’ curriculum, Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards, which call for the use of outdoor classrooms and hands-on experiential learning in life science.

In addition to the four-day Teacher Academy, Project Narragansett includes field experiences and transportation for the teachers’ students’ hands-on exposure to Narragansett Bay. During field experiences that take place on land and aboard Save The Bay’s education vessels, students learn about life in the Narragansett Bay watershed, explore the rocky shore, and enjoy a shipboard “trawl” where critters are grabbed using a large net near the bottom of the Bay. They also learn about the zones of the Bay and water quality and view specimens gathered during the day under a microscope.

The interdisciplinary content isn’t just for science, but also spans the spectrum of fourth-grade subjects such as math, history and language arts. In late March, students and teachers return to Save The Bay for a “show and tell” with their families, excited to show them their extended classroom on the Bay. From science exhibits to art, poetry, history and more, students make presentations and showcase what they have learned.

Project Narragansett teachers learn from Save The
Bay Restoration Ecologist Robbie Hudson about the
life cycle of shellfish and how the bivalves aid in water filtration.
Save The Bay Education Director Bridget Kubis Prescott says that, because Save The Bay and Providence Public Schools share the same community, the partnership has been particularly special to her education team. “We want students to understand their connection to the Bay. Many don’t realize that they live within minutes from the Bay and, in some cases, right down the street.”

The experiences have been eye-opening for teachers as well, according to Casanova. “You can see their confidence, interest and vocabulary grow. By the end of the week, they have all these ideas for lessons,” she said. 

“I am excited to have been part of this experience. My knowledge of environmental science has been enhanced and 2015
deepened. I have been challenged both academically and in the field and can relay this fabulous information to our students. My students will be inspired to be scientists and advocates of their environment,” said Chris Mendonca of Vartan Gregorian Elementary School.

With the final year of the grant at hand, Casanova has applied for additional funds to continue the Teacher Academy at Save The Bay, and has been encouraging Providence teachers to apply for this unique professional development program as well. She recognizes that Save The Bay’s education staff are leaders in the field of experiential education, the product of a committed organizational focus on developing a professional education staff and strong programs in environmental and experiential education. 

“Created 11 years ago, Project Narragansett is a model for other programs,” says Casanova, “by partnering research organizations with schools to offer educational programs for both teachers and students and opening their facility to families.” 

“In addition to educating students,” says GrĂ¡inne Conley, Save The Bay’s school and group program manager, “hopefully we are creating future stewards for the Bay.”

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

How Volunteer Shoreline Cleanup Leaders Save The Bay

By July Lewis, Volunteer and Intern Manager

As Save The Bay works to protect and improve Narragansett Bay, one of the most pervasive problems that we face is shoreline trash. This is an issue that everyone can agree on:  litter does not belong on our shores or in the Bay. In 2015, we had 121 cleanups with over 3,000 volunteers who picked up 34,015 lbs of trash. In addition, we organized the 30th anniversary International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) in Rhode Island. At this global cleanup event, volunteers pick up trash and record what they find.  We have just released a report of our results, including 2,199 volunteers who picked up 7,960 plastic bottle caps, 10,448 food wrappers, and 47,397 cigarette butts.

Save The Bay cannot offer a program of this magnitude with staff leadership alone. In large part, the success of this program is due to our team of volunteer Shoreline Cleanup Leaders. People love to sign up for cleanups, and our ability to offer them is only limited by the number of leaders we have.  The work is simple, but essential: the leader schedules the cleanup with Save The Bay, picks up a supply kit (provided by Save The Bay), arrives at the cleanup site 30 minutes before the cleanup, distributes supplies (bags, gloves, etc.) and gives the welcome and instructions.  The leader then sends people off to clean, weighs trash as it comes back in, thanks all the volunteers for their efforts, makes sure all the trash is gathered at the appropriate site for pickup, and returns the kit and waivers to Save The Bay.

While cleanup leaders are very helpful in covering lots of shoreline in big events like the ICC, one of the most important roles that volunteer cleanup leaders can fill is motivating their community around keeping a particular site clean. There are many places around the coast – small beaches, boat launches and fishing areas – where there is entrenched littering. People who use the site have acquired the idea that it is OK to leave their trash on the ground. These are local, neighborhood sites where there is no paid staff to clean, and the dirty shoreline attracts more littering. Lasting change is best achieved by leadership from the neighborhood itself. A volunteer Cleanup Leader can reach out to their neighbors and friends directly to get them involved. Once a neighborhood starts to take pride in a site, people are more motivated not only to refrain from littering, but to take a bag with them and pick up some litter when they visit. Repeated cleanups keep the site looking good, and over time, the problem site is not such a problem anymore.

On March 19, Save The Bay will hold a shoreline cleanup leader training. Participants will learn how to plan and lead a cleanup. To complete their training, they will have the opportunity to sign up as an assistant leader for an Earth Day cleanup in order to put their new skills into practice. If you care about clean coasts and are not shy about giving the “welcome speech” to a group, please consider attending! Become a community leader, and help us harness the great enthusiasm that people have for keeping their shores clean.

Saturday, March 19, 10 AM to 12 PM
100 Save The Bay Drive, Providence, RI
Open to ages 12+. Cleanup leaders under the age of 18 must co-lead with a parent or guardian