April 23, 2010

Keeping Washington's Coasts Clean

Last Saturday, more than a thousand volunteers braved wind and rain for the annual CoastSavers Cleanup on the beaches of Washington State. From Cape Flattery to Cape Disappointment, over 48,000 pounds of marine debris was removed from the coast. I am proud to say that I helped contribute. My small group was responsible for at least 70 pounds of debris removed from Pacific Beach.

I knew there would be plenty of trash but I didn’t expect the form it would take. My biggest surprise was the size. On our stretch of beach, most of the debris we saw was small pieces of plastic, so fragile they would often crumble when picked up, making the pieces even smaller.

Shell or plastic? I thought that was an easy question. Many of the pieces of plastics littering our tide line stood out because of their color – red, pink, turquoise – but most of the plastic remnants were milky white and difficult to distinguish from shell. It’s hard to tell, but in the picture below nearly all of the white material is plastic. It is very easy to see how birds and other animals could confuse these for food.

Marine debris is an issue gaining more and more attention. There are reports that for every square mile of ocean, there are 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. The Burke Museum is in development on an exhibit exploring the ways plastic has improved our lives and the toll it is taking on our environment, tentatively scheduled for fall of 2012.

I participated in the clean-up because I love the coast, but also in honor of Earth Day (which was yesterday, April 22). After spending a couple weekends out on the beach and seeing all the marine debris, I am going to make a habit of picking up debris every time I am on a beach. You don’t need to be part of an event, every little bit counts.

For more information about the Washington CoastSavers Clean-up and marine debris, visit this Web site. To read more about the garbage patches forming in the Pacific Ocean, Algalita Marine Research Foundation, click here.

Posted by: Sarah Tollefson, Facilities