Friday, August 14, 2015

How my eyes were opened last fall on International Coastal Cleanup Day

by Cindy Sabato

Last September, I did something I've never done before. I joined the Save The Bay's beach cleanup efforts for the International Coastal Cleanup. And it was pretty awesome. So awesome, in fact, that I now work for Save The Bay. But today I'm writing to reflect my experiences that Saturday morning a year ago, as an eager volunteer wanting to enjoy some sunshine and do some good at the same time.

Embarrassing fact: I've lived in the Ocean State for eight years, and have been to the beach only about a dozen times, and that's if we're counting walks along the wall at Narragansett Town Beach. So on that sunny September morning last year, heading down to Charlestown Breachway for the cleanup, I was both excited about actually going to the beach (even if I was wearing boots and a sweatshirt) and totally unprepared for the amount of trash and debris dotting the landscape.


The thing is, it's always there, the trash and debris, but we rarely notice it. Our eyes have been conditioned to overlook the tens of thousands of cigarette butts and plastic bottle caps that get compressed right into the ground and sand as we walk over them (they were everywhere, but I was so surprised at how hard I had to look to actually "see" them). Our nature is to gaze just beyond the unsightly plastic bottles and aluminum cans that have been blown into the nooks and crannies of rocks, fences, dunes, and other shoreline features. So ugly and disheartening is all this abuse by human hands, that we choose not to see it, even when we're in the midst of it, in favor of the sun glistening off the surface of the water, cormorants diving for a bite, children splashing in the shallows and beach grasses blowing in the breeze.

We don't see it, that is, until we're there to clean up it. And I was blown away, less by the strong winds that morning, than by the sheer amount of trash – bottles, cans, butts, caps, pen lids, plastic shards, juice box straws, plastic bags, towels, and fishing gear – that I found and dug out from on, under and amongst the big boulders that line the Charlestown Breachway inlet. 

Don't get me wrong. It was a fun day. Crazy fun. I was invigorated by the sunshine and fresh air. Inspired by the volume of people, families, sports teams and community groups that came to help. And proud that I was there doing something useful, something good for our community. But my experiences on that first cleanup also really opened my eyes to just how much our communities need to do to keep our beaches and shorelines free of all that trash.

We're the Ocean State, after all. Our livelihood depends on our ocean and its shoreline - for the economy, recreation, food, life's little pleasures. The 16,000+ pounds of trash collected in Rhode Island on International Coastal Cleanup day last year made a dent. Maybe a big one. Still, I can't help but think we wouldn't even need a day like that if we didn't put the trash there in the first place.

Save The Bay is now recruiting more than 2,000 volunteers to help with the 2015 International Coastal Cleanup on September 19, 2015. For information, and to register as a volunteer, visit:  savebay.org/icc