On Saturday, scores of people will hit the beach at Plum Island. Their mission will be to clean it up.
“Last year we had good weather and well over 200 . . . we lost track,” said Bill Gette, sanctuary director at Mass Audubon’s Joppa Flats Education Center, which has run the cleanup of Plum Island beaches for the last five years. “This is a way for people to demonstrate their concern for the environment and take part in stewardship activity.”
The event is part of CoastSweep, now in its 25th year. In September and October, volunteers gather at beaches on different days statewide to clean up trash and marine debris.
Saturday’s destinations also include Front and Back beaches in Rockport. Other sites on the schedule are Black Cove (aka Stinky Beach) in Manchester-by-the-Sea on Tuesday; Dane Street Beach in Beverly on Wednesday; and Long Beach in Rockport and Revere Beach in Revere on Sept. 29. The final local cleanup will be in Lynn and Nahant on Oct. 27.
Last year, nearly 2,300 volunteers participated statewide, removing nine tons of trash from more than 118 miles of coastline.
“People want to do them as school groups,” said Robin Lacey, CoastSweep project coordinator for the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management. “We welcome anyone who wants to do a beach cleanup, through the end of October.”
Volunteers are asked to inventory the items they pick up, and CoastSweep has compiled data on its website. Topping the list in 2011 were cigarettes/cigarette filters (24,231), food wrappers and containers (9,108), caps and lids (8,129), rope (6,372), and plastic bags (5,684).
“We’ve collected a huge number of plastic bottles, refrigerators, lots of tires, and lots of construction wood,” Gette said. “Not driftwood and not tree branches, but construction wood, with nails in it. We’ve pulled out a lot of Styrofoam. It’s amazing what we’ve found out there.”
Statewide, volunteers also have removed toilet bowls, rubber boots, fishing net, truck tires, vinyl siding, and easy chairs. The items wind up in the ocean for a number of reasons, including forgetfulness, accidents, and illegal dumping.
“It’s amazing some of the weird things they find,” Lacey said. “We get a lot of cellphones these days.”
In addition to making the beach more attractive, the removal of debris creates a safer environment for fish, birds, and marine animals, for swimmers and beachgoers, and for boaters. Sea turtles swallow clear plastic bags, mistaking them for jellyfish. Animals and boat propellers become entangled in nets and ropes. Plastic pieces clog the cooling intakes on boats. Beachgoers cut their feet or hands on jagged pieces of metal or glass.
Lacey experienced that hazard firsthand, when he stepped on a broken bottle while running for a Frisbee on the beach at age 14.
“I missed the first two weeks of football, was on crutches . . . it was a nasty thing,” he recalled.
The individual cleanups are run by volunteer coordinators, and some welcome anyone while others rely on private volunteer groups. School groups, for example, tend to do the cleanups themselves.
Cleanup volunteers include those who regularly enjoy the educational programs at Joppa Flats or walking on the refuge, as well as Scout troops, youth athletic teams, and high school students putting in hours of community service.
“The refuge does an excellent job protecting land and wildlife,” Gette said. “This is one way people feel they can give back to either Joppa Flats or the reservation.”
Retired wildlife biologist David Weaver, 74, of Manchester-by-the-Sea is a volunteer at Joppa Flats, and has volunteered in previous CoastSweep cleanups.
“I get a lot of satisfaction, and a lot of amazement about how much crap is out there,” he said. “You think you’ve cleaned it up one year, and you go back and there’s just as much there. It’s a good example of how dirty mankind is.”