Local beaches join international effort to clear shores of debris

A plastic bottle washes ashore at Smith Point BeachA plastic bottle washes ashore at Smith Point Beach

Over 319 pounds of trash were cleared from Long Island shores by 111 volunteers on September 17th as part of this year’s international coastal cleanup day.

The local cleanup was organized by the Riverhead Foundation at four locations on the island including Smith Point on Fire Island, Roanoke Beach, Ponquogue Beach, and Cedar Beach in conjunction with the international cleanup hosted by the Ocean Conservancy. The 2015 international cleanup gathered 18 million pounds of trash by 800,000 volunteers.

“Our goal is to raise awareness on why we need to take care of our environment both in the sea and on the shore,” said Gail Roach, the Riverhead Foundation volunteer coordinator at the Smith Point site.

Scientists estimate as much as 12.7 million tons of plastic finds its way into the world’s oceans. Plastic garbage can be found in every corner of the planet from the Arctic to the Antarctic. It is not only an eyesore on beaches but also finds its way into the stomach of birds, turtles, and whales, which often has deadly effects. Many of the animals that find their way into the Riverhead Foundation’s rehabilitation center were either entangled in marine debris or accidentally ingested the trash.

Among the most common trash items are cigarette butts, straws, plastic bottle caps, and candy wrappers, according to the Riverhead Foundation.

“Marine debris is adversely affecting marine animals at an alarming rate. This is a human-induced occurrence, and is entirely avoidable,” Rachel Bosworth, spokesperson for the foundation said.

The Smith Point site had the highest turnout with 48 volunteers. After a quick instructional talk by Roach they hit the beach armed with trash bags, gloves, clipboards and trash grabbers. Among the army were boy scouts, girl scouts, kids with parents and cheerleaders.

“This beach is bigger and needs a little bit more love,” Debbie Rutherford, troop leader of Girl Scout troop 244886 said. “This year, it has been a great turnout.” The troop has participated in the annual cleanup for the past five years.

“Every year we’ve been one of a dozen on the beach,” Marie Eleana Scimeca, mother of Girl Scout Marissa Scimeca, a freshman from Holtzville, said.

The Smith Point Beach on Fire Island is part of the New York’s National Seashore, the only place in the state with the federal wilderness designation where rangers are not allowed to alter the natural environment. The National Park service launched an initiative to collect 2016 pounds of trash for the centennial year.

“It’s important for our beaches because its carry in carry out, it gets neglected. People end up littering because they don’t see trash cans,” said Nicole Goloff, the centennial volunteer ambassador who promotes stewardship with the National Parks Service. “We want people to enjoy their experience at the seashore.”

Volunteers each had their own reason to give back to the ocean. Christian DeRusso, though not a fan of the beach himself, felt it was important as a member of the community to participate.

“I thought it would be a great thing to give back to the environment,” DeRusso said.

The Riverhead Foundation will continue to host beach cleanups on the first Saturday of every month as part of the Pick it Up initiative they launched this past March. So far 408 people have participated in the initiative.