On Saturday, September 19th, at 8:00 am, Oakland Beach was gray, foggy, and deserted save a few sleepy dog walkers. In less than an hour, volunteers for the International Coastal Cleanup began to arrive: veteran volunteers, students from Bryant University, a group of Girl Scouts. Everyone was eager to get started.
As an events intern at Save The Bay, I helped our Grants and Foundations Manager Stephany Hessler distribute supplies, explain the ICC data sheet, and answer questions about debris found on the beach. By far, the biggest problem we encountered at our site was cigarette butts. One pair of volunteers focused on a small corner of the parking lot and picked up 764 cigarette butts! After working hard on what turned into a sunny day, volunteers made their way to the REI mobile campsite, where they could relax and enjoy lemonade, cornhole and even swing in a hammock.
This was my first cleanup with Save The Bay, and what impressed me the most was the diversity and dedication of our volunteers. It was encouraging to see many families with children; hopefully taking part in a beach cleanup will become a family tradition. I didn’t expect to see many volunteers come to the cleanup by themselves, but quite a few people came alone. The lone wolves, as I called them in my head, showed up to help despite the fact that family or friends couldn’t make it, and without a hint of insecurity. A Save The Bay cleanup is exactly what you’d hope for in a cleanup—a group of everyone and anyone who cares about our coast and wants to contribute the time and effort to clean it.
I love to color code and label anything and everything, so I was super excited about the ICC’s detailed data collection sheets…but a little worried that volunteers might get tired of recording every piece of trash. I was thrilled to be totally wrong. Volunteers valiantly recorded every single cigarette butt. Whenever a team turned in their data sheet, they showed Stephany and me the notes they’d made to keep track of the cigarette butts, or how they had written tally marks for cigarette butts all over the sheet. Their dedication to detail is what makes the ICC possible. Their painstakingly collected data is essential for the Ocean Conservancy to provide an accurate, big-picture representation of the problems facing coastlines around the world.
The total weight of the trash our volunteers removed from Oakland Beach was a little over 800 pounds. For those of you unfamiliar with Oakland Beach-it is not a large area. We also cleaned the parking lot and playground, but the shoreline is only about two miles long. Removing 800+ pounds of trash from such a small and beautiful part of our coast raised conflicting feelings for me and the volunteers: frustration, satisfaction, disbelief and excitement to have taken part in an International Coastal Cleanup. There is still trash on the beach, and people will probably litter tomorrow. But Oakland Beach is 800 pounds of trash cleaner, and that 800 pounds will be part of a larger solution.