October 20, 2020

While many research activities across the country have necessarily been restricted during the COVID-19 pandemic, beach debris cleanups are one of the few activities that can be conducted safely, as participants wear masks and gloves and can maintain an easy distance from each other. During the month of September, the Center for Coastal Studies and dozens of volunteers conducted three major beach cleanups on the Outer Cape and removed nearly two tons of trash from the coastal environment.

On September 12, the Center hosted the annual CoastSweep at Long Point. Participation was limited due to necessary spacing on the Flyer’s shuttle which delivered the group to the cleanup area, so the amount of debris removed from the point was less than what is normally obtained. Even with that reduced effort, the  team collected over 240 lbs (1236 pieces) of trash from about 1 mile of beach.

The following weekend, on September 19, the Center collaborated with Provincetown’s shellfish department to remove over one ton of “legacy” aquaculture debris from the west end shellfish flats. Eighteen hardy volunteers met at 6:30am and worked over the course of low tide to collect over one ton of aquaculture gear abandoned in the ‘80s, consisting of rusted rebar, nylon mesh netting, leaded polypropylene line, and dangerously sharp, rusted steel staples. The debris was loaded onto a barge which the Shellfish Constable towed to the pier at the high tide, making it possible to easily off-load and dispose of a challenging waste pile.

The 5th Annual Outer Cape Clean Up — a four-day, 27-mile marathon community event organized by shellfisherman Anthony Daley and supported by the Center for Coastal Studies — was to have been conducted the following weekend in the Cape Cod National Seashore, but access and support constraints imposed by the pandemic required scaling back the cleanup to a single day in one specific area.

On September 26, ten volunteers from up and down the Cape worked for over seven hours to clear 1.5 miles of the beach between High Head and Race Point, removing over 400 lbs of trash, most of which was lightweight plastic or foam. The following day, a smaller group of 9 volunteers met in a huge garage bay donated by Winkler Crane to sort and count all of the debris.

The top-ten items collected overall were: polystyrene foam pieces (over 70 gallons); non-descript rigid plastic pieces (480); rope/twine pieces (291); plastic bottle caps (282); plastic bottles (257); plastic food wrappers (202); mylar and rubber balloons/strings (192); foam lobster buoys and pieces (107); nets and pieces (101); and eking out 10th place just before cigarette butts (39) were the plastic straws/stirrers (86).

Much of the debris will be set aside for use by artists in the creation of sculpture, weavings, and demonstration pieces.

For more information about these and upcoming beach debris clean up opportunities, please contact Laura Ludwig, Project Director in the Center for Coastal Studies Marine Debris & Plastics Program, at [email protected] .

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