25 for 25: 25-Plus Years of Cleaning Up Our Coast
By Thomas S. Burack, DES Commissioner
In recognition of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services’ 25th Anniversary, over the course of the year, I will highlight 25 agency activities, programs, projects and accomplishments of the past 25 years. This article, the 15th in the series, discusses the annual International Coastal Cleanup Day.
Even though New Hampshire has the shortest coastline in New England, only 18 miles, our beaches aren’t immune from becoming garbage dumps for marine debris. And with nearly 230 additional shoreline miles of bays, harbors, tidal rivers and estuaries, there’s even more territory for wastes to be washed up in New Hampshire. But, rather than just complaining or blaming others for this trash, New Hampshire has a proud, 25-year tradition of volunteer efforts to clean up our beaches and shoreline.
Each September since 1986, a year before DES was formed, New Hampshire volunteers come together as part of a worldwide event called International Coastal Cleanup Day. It’s the largest volunteer one-day event of its kind in which people from all over the world clean beaches on the same day. It was started by the Ocean Conservancy, whose mission is to keep oceans healthy. Last year in New Hampshire alone, 1,110 volunteers collected 8,037 pounds of debris, which totaled approximately 44,000 pieces.
This year’s Coastal Cleanup on September 15 will be conducted at more than 25 sites along the New Hampshire coast and Great Bay. Volunteers will help clean local beaches and will record their findings on data cards to help study trends in marine pollution. The most common items found from year to year include cigarette butts, food wrappers and containers, caps and lids, rope, and plastic bags. All of these items can kill marine life and cause a major eyesore for folks trying to enjoy the beach. No one wants to walk, swim or play near marine debris!
Cleanups not only keep our coasts beautiful, they also help protect public health by removing potentially dangerous trash. Fishing lines, hooks and syringes are some of the dangerous debris that has turned up in New Hampshire. Fishing lines and nets, ropes and other trash can wrap around fins, flippers and limbs of birds, whales, seals, and other animals, affecting their ability to eat, move and care for their young.
The Coastal Program, prior to joining DES in 2004, was originally part of the Office of State Planning, and helped to coordinate the first ever New Hampshire Coastal Cleanup and continued to coordinate and recruit volunteers until 2004. Since 2005, the Blue Ocean Society for Marine Conservation, based out of Portsmouth, has been awarded a federal grant passed through the DES Coastal Program to coordinate the International Coastal Cleanup Day in New Hampshire, with some additional sponsors. The Blue Ocean Society works throughout the year to educate the public about the problems of marine debris and the importance of proper trash disposal.
The Blue Ocean Society has been a tremendous partner to DES in conducting marine debris removal and education activities, including coordinating the annual International Coastal Cleanup Day, Adopt-A-Beach programs, and public education and outreach in schools, aboard whale watches, and in other public venues.
Most importantly DES and Blue Ocean Society could not do this work without volunteers. The heart of the cleanup is the people who care about our beaches. It’s a time when individuals, families, and small and large groups come together to preserve part of what makes New Hampshire great. These efforts have certainly paid off – New Hampshire was named second in the nation for cleanest coastal beaches in 2011 by The Natural Resources Defense Council. So this weekend, mark it on your calendar to spend a few hours on the beach helping to keep New Hampshire’s beaches and shoreline the envy of the nation.
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Note: To participate in this year cleanup, contact the Blue Ocean Society at 603-431-0260 or [email protected].
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