One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s Labor
by Chris Cassaday, communications intern
With over 400-miles of accessible coastline, Rhode Island is aptly named the “Ocean State.” Sadly, many do not understand the importance of keeping our beaches clean, and leave their trash for gulls to fight over. On Saturday, Sept. 15, Save The Bay coordinated Rhode Island’s participation in the International Coastal Cleanup. Hundreds of volunteers took to Rhode Island’s beaches to remove all the trash they could find. In 2017, Save The Bay led 90 cleanups across 25 towns, collecting over 16 thousand pounds of garbage! How much will we clean this year?
I personally witnessed the cleanups at Compass Rose Beach in North Kingstown and Scarborough State Beach in Narragansett. Compass Rose is set right within the industrial park of Quonset and, as a result, can become pretty filthy very quickly. The early morning sounds of birds and the lapping of waves is lost to the trucks and heavy machinery that echo across the quiet waters.
Beach Captains Kathy Vigness-Raposa and Walter Berry made certain the volunteers knew the risks with certain types of industrial trash, such as sharp metals, glass and possibly even medical syringes. Rubber earplugs used by the industry workers are tiny and easily lost when they bounce out of pockets; they are one of the most common items to lookout for at Compass Rose. The danger they pose to wildlife is severe, as they can easily be swallowed by birds or large fish, which can be fatal.
Though my visit to Compass Rose was short, I was fortunate to meet several of the 26 local volunteers who came to the beach to help clean North Kingstown’s waters. Many families brought their children to educate them about the importance of trash cleanup and the effects pollution has on the environment.
All in all, the volunteers were able to clear roughly 45 pounds of trash from the small beach. I’ve lived in North Kingstown for 16 years and I could not be more proud of my local community members for giving their time to help keep our town in pristine condition.
The sun broke free of the morning clouds as I made my way south to the next beach on my list. Unlike Compass Rose, which is cramped between a ferry port and a shipyard, Scarborough State Park stretches across 60 acres of land. To cover so much acreage, we needed a lot of manpower. Thanks to the combined efforts of 74 volunteers, including the University of Rhode Island Girl’s Tennis Team, North Smithfield High School’s Girls Volleyball Team, volunteers from BlumShapiro Accounting Firm, and Beach Captains Julia Hallworth and Lisa Pannozzo, we managed to clear 210 pounds of garbage.
When I first arrived at the beach, I kicked off my sandals and trekked down to the north end, speaking with volunteers and picking up whatever I could find along the way. The early afternoon rays of sunlight danced on the surface of the water. Soft sand eventually gave way to piles of red, rotting seaweed that I tried to avoid stepping in. But that didn’t deter several of North Smithfield’s high schoolers from diving in and searching for whatever they could find. Seaweed piles are havens for coastal insects and birds that feast on them. They are a unique ecosystem of their own.
Volunteers collected everything from small pieces of plastics and beer bottles to netting and abandoned lobster cages. Tons of trash was scattered across Scarborough’s parking lot, dunes, jetties and the prominent ruins at the north end of the beach. I’m amazed and saddened at how much was found.
The number of discarded beer bottles and the like within the sand dunes was heartbreaking. The dunes play an integral role for the beaches as they prevent erosion and create safe havens for shoreline animals. Trash build-up prevents plants from taking root or growing and can become harmful to the animals that make the dune plants their home. The lone exception may be the mouse that we scared out of her beer box home. Sorry, Minnie, your nest was made of our trash.
This was my first time participating in a beach cleanup, and I will no doubt be volunteering again. If you want to help, you still have time! Head over to Save The Bay’s website to sign-up for more cleanups that will be taking place over the next month. If you can’t make any of the dates, grab a bag and some gloves and take a walk along a beach of your choice. Anything you can do to help our beaches stay clean year-round is greatly appreciated not only by us at Save The Bay, but for the millions of animals that inhabit our waters.