By Brittany Tesoriero and Noah Buttner
Aphrodite was tangled in twine, Spiderman got caught up in a balloon string.
Two of three seals treated at the Riverhead Foundation for injuries caused by marine-debris are just an example of the damage that litter is causing to wildlife on the Long Island shore.
Aphrodite was stranded in April and released in June of last year; Spiderman was captured in March and released in July of 2015. Though these two have been rehabilitated, Seals are just one of 700 marine species that are affected by pollution.
In an attempt to minimize the chances of something like this happening again, the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation will resume their “Pick it Up!” Beach Cleanup initiative on April 1.
The event, which aims to rid local beaches of garbage and debris, began in February of last year and operates with the help of community volunteers. The event managed to help clean up over 5,000 pounds of garbage last year, during its pilot phase. Just one year after the initiative began, the foundation is hoping to top that.
“It has been so great,” Nicole Valenti, the Education Assistant for the Riverhead Foundation, said, “especially in certain areas like Crab Meadow and Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai, we usually get a really nice big turn out.”
The organization hosts lectures and educational programs where members of the community can learn about the impact that marine debris can have on ecosystems in the water. Through these programs, attendees have the opportunity to use what they learn and apply it to their own community.
“When I go to the beaches I see a lot of plastic and cigarette butts,” Maria Grima said, “sometimes times I see seagulls who will try and eat styrofoam they find on the beach.”
Trash in the water not only hurts the animals in the water and the humans that eat them, but also the economies in the surrounding areas, according to the Ocean Conservancy. It can threaten tourism, complicate shipping, and generates steep bills for retrieval and removal.
“The debris can eventually cover parts of the ocean floor,” Dr. Larry Swanson, the interim director of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook, said. “When that happens, there is a loss of food. Whether it be clams or worms living there that fish would eat.”
“If the fish are eating plastic, and then we eat the fish it’s a cycle,” Valenti said. “It’s dangerous for everyone.”
Last November, thousands of dead fish washed up in Eastern Long Island waters. The fish, in the Peconic River and Shinnecock Canal, died as a result of a lack of oxygen levels in the water. Litter in these bodies of water can lead to poor water quality.
“Many fish, bunker as we call them, washed up in a very small area,” Ed Kopack, an employee at Warren’s Tackle Center in Aquebogue, said.
Community volunteers will have the opportunity to sign up for clean-up happening next month at beaches in Mount Sinai, Riverhead, Fire Island, Huntington and Hampton Bays.