UMass Boston’s COASTSWEEP Marks 25 Years of Clearing the Massachusetts Coastline
September 26, 2012
Volunteers have found everything from refrigerators and microwave ovens to toilet bowls and barcaloungers along Massachusetts’ beaches as part of an annual coastal cleanup program cosponsored by UMass Boston.
Last year alone, COASTSWEEP collected more than 17,700 pounds — or nine tons —of trash over 120 miles of coastline with the help of 2,200 volunteers.
The coastal cleanup program, sponsored and coordinated by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) and UMass Boston’s Urban Harbors Institute (UHI), is celebrating its 25th anniversary this fall.
To commemorate the occasion, COASTSWEEP hopes to cover more than 1,500 miles of shoreline and hold cleanups in all 78 coastal communities in Massachusetts.
“Volunteers can go through the Saugus River marsh system and collect a dumpster worth of stuff. They can go back a week later and there’s more there,” said Robin Lacey, a regional planner for CZM. “It’s very costly to dump construction stuff legally. It’s cost-effective to dump wherever.”
For the last 25 years volunteers have hit Massachusetts beaches during the September and October months collecting litter. The program has grown substantially since it began in 1987, when 391 volunteers collected almost two tons of debris along 40 miles of coast.
As volunteers pick up the marine debris, they note on data cards what types of items they collect. That information goes to the Urban Harbors Institute, and the UHI staff sends it on to the Ocean Conservancy in Washington, DC. Each year the Ocean Conservancy organizes the International Coastal Cleanup to identify the source of marine debris and change the behaviors that allow it to reach the ocean in the first place. COASTSWEEP is part of that effort.
“A lot of what you find is just regular litter, hitting our street, and going into the ocean. Hopefully [after taking part in COASTSWEEP], people will think twice when they leave a bottle on the road or leave a cigarette butt in the gutter,” Lacey said.
Along with the appliances, tires, rugs, and fishing line, Lacey said a lot of plastics end up in Massachusetts’s waterways.
“If critters go for something that’s shiny, it may fill up their bellies, but [plastic] can suffocate birds, fish, turtles, and harbor seals,” Lacey said.
Community members can check the COASTSWEEP website for planned cleanups; they can also go online to organize their own cleanup. Volunteers can call the Urban Harbors Institute at 617.287.5570 with questions about volunteering and sponsorship opportunities.
“A cleanup can be one person, it can be 100; we just like to get people out there,” Lacey said.
- To hear an interview with Lacey on WUMB 91.9FM's award-winning public affairs show, Commonwealth Journal, go to our iTunes page.