By Lindsay Carroll
Over the last six months, Oregon Beach Ambassadors conducted 54 beach cleanups and removed just over 1,800 marine debris items from Oregon beaches to date. If marine debris were to be collected and removed at the same pace over the next six months, Ambassadors could remove over 3,200 items in one year and 16,000 items in five years!
Approximately 76% of all materials collected were plastic. Of the plastic items, the most commonly collected were plastic pieces, cigarette butts, foam pieces, plastic wrappers and plastic bags. Some of the “weirdest” items collected were one half of a dollar bill, a paper fortune teller, and a Star Wars-themed kite bag, among others.
Who are these marine debris miracle workers? Oregon Beach Ambassadors are volunteers of all ages who are dedicated to reducing marine debris on Oregon beaches. To date, there are 20 ambassadors contributing to the effort. Ambassadors spend anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours collecting and removing and recording debris from their favorite beaches that they visit most frequently.
The program appeals to people who regularly clean their beach, but want their cleanups to mean more. One Ambassador in Newport who cleaned the beach weekly, even before the program, said the program “makes me feel like I am actually making a difference.”
Ambassadors log and categorize all items removed from the beach during each clean-up using the Marine Debris Tracker App (available on iOS and Android platforms). This data enables Surfrider to address an extremely important research priority, which is to identify the source, quantity, and types of marine debris found in Oregon. Data collected by ambassadors will be used to specifically tailor policies. For example, in the map below, you can see the location of each clean-up and more importantly, the locations where plastic grocery bags were logged and removed (yellow dots). Understanding the locations where plastic bags are frequently collected, can help Surfrider develop policy recommendations to stop plastic pollution at its source. In addition to informing policy, Surfrider will also use data to inform outreach efforts in coastal communities.
The Ambassadors are making an impact and are helping provide Surfrider with necessary data to answer critical marine debris questions. But, you do not need to be an Oregon Beach Ambassador to help the cause. The Marine Debris Tracker App can be downloaded by anyone. The next time you head to your favorite beach, consider taking a bucket, picking up trash as you walk, and logging the data. You can also limit the marine debris making it to our oceans and beaches by changing some of your personal habits. A few considerations are listed below.
Many thanks go out to the Oregon Beach Ambassadors for their time and efforts. Be sure to stay-tuned for more program updates and findings.
Support from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation made this project possible.