Casey Cruikshank, NEC Coastal Programs Coordinator
According to reports from the California Coastal Commission, California was the world leader in cleanup events for Coastal Cleanup Month in September. Despite many challenges, over 10,000 volunteers showed up to clean their streets and beaches. In Humboldt we had an estimated 85 volunteers that removed around 550 pounds of trash. These numbers are based on the data that was reported to us via our data reporting form.
We received a lot of positive feedback from participants about the new month long format, a few participants even remarked about the habit forming benefits of volunteering over a longer period of time. This reaction is exactly what we had hoped for and we are excited to carry this model into future years.
As we move toward the NOAA Marine Debris Tracker app as our main source of data, we are hopeful that participants will be excited by their ability to track their cleanups and see what others are finding and where. This is all public information and can be found on the Marine Debris Tracker website.
This year, the top five items found were as follows: 1. Cigarette Butts (2,628) 2. Food Wrappers (1,168) 3. Beverage Cans (209) 4. Glass Beverage Bottles (155) 5. Plastic Beverage Bottles (127). The items found this year were a bit different from the top five found in 2019 which consisted of 1. Cigarette Butts 2. Plastic Pieces 3. Food Wrappers 4. Glass Pieces 5. Other Trash. I believe the difference may have come from the locations of the cleanups. This year, we had our participants focus on their neighborhoods to avoid overcrowding on beaches. It is no surprise that cigarette butts and food wrappers are the top two items on our streets.
Cigarette butts have been at the top of the marine debris data lists since we started gathering data. This is due partly to the common misconception that cigarette butts are compostable and will eventually degrade. Not only do they leach toxic chemicals into the environment (including arsenic and lead), their filters are made of plastic that easily break down into microplastics. According to the Truth Initiative, 4.5 trillion cigarette butts are littered into the environment every year. At the NEC, we are using data collected by our coastal cleanup volunteers to identify cigarette butt problem areas so we can tackle the issue with future initiatives.
In an attempt to address wasteful food packaging, particularly of the To-Go container variety, the NEC has embarked on a mission to get local restaurants to sign on for an opt-in mentality surrounding single-use food related items when ordering food to go. To learn more about this initiative you can visit yournec.org/pledge.
Finally, I will end with a positive marine debris removal story from Coastal Cleanup Day. On the morning of September 25th, I sat down at my computer to find an email from Robin Hamlin reporting a mooring on Clam Beach. Excitedly, I ran to grab my shoes to head out and tackle the issue before the incoming tide. As I was tying my laces it occurred to me that I would need to find a place to take the mooring once it was removed. I decided to call the Trinidad Harbor who directed me to the Trinidad Rancheria. I spoke with them, let them know where the buoy was and they said they knew exactly where the buoy came from. They spoke of a crabbing vessel mooring mishap and sent two employees out with tools to remove the mooring within the hour. I removed my shoes with a smile and resumed my work for the day.
After tackling debris issues like this, I’ve found that there is almost always a solution. Often, the solution doesn’t come as easy as this story but with persistence and determination a solution almost always arrives. If you’re ever walking on a beach and you find large debris, please don’t hesitate to reach out and I will see what I can do to find a solution. Thank you to all of the people that are out keeping an eye on the beaches. Coastal Programs wouldn’t be a success without you. Keep on trash picking and data collecting!