By: Nir Barnea
Every year around Earth Day, in what has become a great tradition, hundreds of volunteers from near and far converge on Washington’s outer coast to participate in the state’s largest coastal marine debris cleanup.
This year, more than 1,000 volunteers participated in the effort, removing over 30,000 lbs of marine debris and recycling part of the debris collected. This is an impressive amount of marine debris removed and of volunteers braving the cloudy, cool, and drizzly day. The beaches along the coast vary from sandy and accessible by vehicle to remote and accessible by foot only, but the same rule applies to all: what you picked up must be carried out, if not by vehicles, then on the backs of volunteers.
In the south, the Grassroots Garbage Gang mobilizes volunteers to clean up the sandy beaches of the Long Beach peninsula. Along the rest the outer coast, CoastSavers a program of Washington Clean Coast Alliance, manages the cleanup operation, and for the third year running, the Clallam County cleanup has joined the effort and cleans beaches from Sequim in the east to the Makah Indian reservation in the west.
My wife Carol and I helped with volunteer coordination at Lake Ozette Ranger Station, the registration and launching site for Cape Alava and Sand Point beaches. When we arrived at 7 a.m., volunteers were already registering, some having camped nearby the night before. Before noon, all volunteers were off to the beaches, a hike of 3 + miles each way, and by 1:30 p.m., the first set of volunteers returned carrying bags of debris attached to their backs, sides, fronts, and some even balanced bags using a pole on their shoulders.
This amazing collection of items included solid and foamed plastic floats; large pieces of red foamed plastic; plastic bottles of all shapes, from the United States and all around the Pacific rim; a window frame; and even a kitchen sink. The first prize, however, goes to a message in a bottle, sent in 2012 from British Columbia, our neighbor to the north. So much debris was collected that at some point, many plastic floats were set in a pile outside the already filled-dumpsters to make room for the bags and foamed plastic floats.
Thinking about this tremendous coast-wide effort on the long drive home, it was hard not to feel inspired. Many volunteers come back to this site year after year and would not trade the experience, including the long walk back with a heavy load, for anything. They love the rugged beaches and are willing to invest the time and effort to keep them natural and clean. Multiply this dedication by many thousands of volunteers in the United States and elsewhere, as well as hard work by agencies, non-governmental organizations, and industry, and the problem of marine debris, entirely man-made, could hopefully be greatly reduced, if not be completely gone.