During these precious months of warm weather in New England, more of us spend time outdoors enjoying cookouts, traveling, and visiting beaches. And when people visit a beach, what do they often leave behind? Litter.



Leaving a plastic ice cream cup or a single water bottle behind at the beach may not seem like a big deal. But when you add up everyone’s actions, the result is often a big mess. The truth is, trash along our beaches and other waterways does not magically disappear. According to a report in National Geographic magazine, there are an estimated 5 trillion pieces of plastic in the world’s oceans. This pollution harms marine life and may also be entering the food chain and affecting human health.


Plastic and other types of trash enter our oceans in a variety of ways. Nearly half of all ocean debris comes from land, primarily through storm drains. When someone tosses a cigarette butt or a straw on the ground, the rain washes it into a storm drain that leads to the ocean. In other cases, thoughtless people simply leave their trash on the beach after a long day in the sun. Recreational anglers and boaters are other sources of marine litter and debris.

Volunteer for COASTSWEEP 2016

Fortunately for coastal and marine wildlife, many agencies, businesses, and volunteer groups are committed to keeping our marine environment healthy and pristine. For example, the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup has been cleaning up shorelines around the world. Last year, 800,000 volunteers across the U.S. collected more than 18 million pounds of trash.


Here in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management sponsors COASTSWEEP, which is part of the International Coastal Cleanup. Last year, 2,643 volunteers cleaned 146 miles of coastline, river banks, marsh, seafloor, and lakeshore in Massachusetts. Together, they collected more than 12,500 pounds of debris from 120 locations across the state.


If you want to join the cause and help keep Massachusetts beaches and waterways beautiful, volunteer for this year’s COASTSWEEP. See a list of cleanups planned for September and October and volunteer!


Note: This post was written by Katie Cheff, an intern from Stonehill College.