Connecticut volunteers clean up coastline
Waterford — Plastic bags. Beer bottles. Cigarette butts. And a diaper.
"For the little amount of ground we've covered, we've picked up a decent chunk of stuff," said Rob Vose, a 23-year-old Three Rivers Community College student, pointing at a half-full garbage bag along the boardwalk entry to the beach at Harkness Memorial State Park on Saturday.
Vose, of Waterford, was one of almost two dozen volunteers at Harkness — and among thousands at three dozen sites across Connecticut — scouring the coastline for trash and debris as part of International Coastal Cleanup Day.
"A lot of us are overwhelmed by global warming and climate change, but pollution and cleanups are things we can prevent ourselves and do ourselves," said Michaela Abate, a 20-year-old University of Connecticut student from New London, as she checked off items on a "trash collected" list on a clipboard that Save the Sound will use to provide data to researchers and the state. "We feel like we can't do anything against these massive things going on, but little things like cleaning up our crap ... at least that's the impact that we can 1,000 percent have — lowering consumption and lowering destruction."
The annual event, founded by the Ocean Conservancy 34 years ago and organized in the state since 2002 by Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound and other partners, was sponsored by Subaru of New England.
"This is an excellent turnout," Bill Dopirak, a natural sciences professor at Three Rivers who's participated in the cleanup day for two decades, said at Harkness beach as white-shirted volunteers plucked trash from the sand and rocks.
While Dopirak pushed for greater federal action on pollution, he expressed enthusiasm for recent legislation paving the way for a ban on plastic grocery bags in the state. Save the Sound says volunteers picked up 3,381 plastic straws and 1,288 plastic grocery bags in 2017, but those totals dropped last year to 2,005 and 1,099, respectively.
"We normally get like 60 to 80 pounds of garbage on less than a 10th of a mile" on the now-closed Greens Harbor Beach in New London, Dopirak said. "But I don't think we're going to hit that today. That's good. That's progress. It's relatively clean here."
According to Save the Sound, 17,000 volunteers have picked up more than 60 tons of litter and debris from Connecticut's beaches, rivers, marshes and island shores over the last decade. Last year, 1,442 volunteers gathered at 50 sites and collected 7,617 pounds of trash.
An expanded sponsorship from Subaru this year allowed for cleanups farther inland, including Tolland and Manchester, Save the Sound said earlier this month.
"It is exciting that volunteers are stepping up to host more cleanups in inland communities this year," Save the Sound soundkeeper Bill Lucey said in a statement. "Coastal ecosystems are inextricably connected with those upstream, and our efforts must take a similarly holistic approach. After all, trash travels."
The southeastern Connecticut region featured several cleanups, including at Ocean Beach Park in New London, Hole in the Wall Beach and Rocky Neck State Park in Niantic, and Bluff Point State Park in Groton, among others.
Volunteers included a mix of individuals, high school and college clubs, a SCUBA club and Cub Scouts.
But a day after the youth climate strike around the globe, Vose, who's attended multiple cleanups the last couple years, said that he hoped to see even more young people turn out moving forward.
"I get that we are working jobs to pay for college, but it's like one Saturday a month. We need more representation," he said.
"People don't want to be the weirdo picking up trash," Abate added with a smile. "But the more you normalize it, the more people do it."
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