Every third Saturday in September, for over 20 years, Broward County has participated in the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup (ICC). This was the 37th year that millions of volunteers around the world tallied the trash found along beaches, streams, parks, and neighborhoods.
Spearheaded by community school groups, non-profit organizations, town and city staff, local officials, and private companies, the County prepares over a dozen coastal sites for volunteers to join together and clean up trash from the dunes, beaches, and waterways in support of a cleaner ocean. Local companies also participate and encourage employees to join in as a wellness incentive and a team building exercise.
Additional Effects Brought by COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic brought a new set of challenges to the community cleanup, by limiting in-person events and weighing stations. Not only did the pavilion meet-ups halt, but the influx of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as single use masks and latex gloves, plagued the streets and waterways as the new category of litter that participants had not often seen in the years before.
In 2021, despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Coastal Cleanup brought out over 1,350 volunteers countywide participating independently, following safety guidelines, and collected nearly 50,000 pieces of trash totaling nearly 3,000 pounds.
This year, Broward County’s coordinator Mark Hartman shared, “Everyone was excited to get back out and work together. While handwritten data is still being collected and entered, we can say that based solely on ‘Clean Swell’ mobile app submissions alone, we had over 530 volunteers collecting over 2,600 pounds of trash consisting of over 19,000 items.”
Important For Data and Research
Didn’t get a chance to participate with the ICC this year? Don’t let that stop you! Broward County gets inquiries all the time asking, “How do we join a beach cleanup?” and the answer is easy: Grab some friends, a bucket, a picker, and get to it! All trash can be entered on the free ‘Clean Swell’ mobile app year round.
Check with your City’s Parks and Recreation Department for event permitting for larger groups, but it’s perfectly fine to pick up trash while you are enjoying the day at the beach with family and log it the app. Not only will you be to cleaning beaches and waterways, but you will join the ranks of 17 million other volunteers in contributing to the world’s largest database on marine debris. Users of the Clean Swell app can then share digital badges, track miles cleaned, and brag to their friends of how much trash they have prevented from entering our oceans.
Important for Our Wildlife
Stephanie Roche, Broward County’s Sea Turtle Program Manager, said “The International Coastal Cleanup is such an important event because it gives our community that extra push to collect the debris that is so harmful to marine life like sea turtles. Plastics, especially tiny plastic pieces, can be deadly to hatchling sea turtles. Unfortunately, this is one of the top items found during the cleanup each year. Refusing single use plastic is the best way to keep items like this out of our environment and out of sea turtles’ bellies.”
Along with sea turtles, other species ingest or become entangled in refuse, such as manatees and shore birds. The South Florida Wildlife Center witnesses the number of critter patients that enter the Center every year, such as brown pelicans, ibis, and even most recently a tiny black-and-white warbler.
Items of Concern
It is no surprise that the largest number of items found are the ones that take hundreds of years to decompose, such as cigarette butts, plastic bottles, foam cups, and microplastic fragments. Volunteers took the time and effort to individually tally each piece to help submit the correct numbers to the database. Efforts like these can help motivate local leaders to initiate laws and policies to reduce the amount of single-use plastic in our environment.
Specific items can also target what items are of local concern in certain areas, such as an increase in finding needles, e-cigarette cartridges, and dog feces, which can all lead to other health concerns and diseases. Additionally, a category for the “weird and unusual” items is one to raise an eyebrow at- such as a fire hydrant, a ski boot, and a garden gnome!
And yes, students CAN get volunteer hours approved for participating! Our own Northeast High School’s Ms. Rosario came out with her students, and they did an awesome job working together! Thank you to all the volunteers, city, and County staff for their hard work, braving the rain and finishing with a sunny day on a trash-free coast!
#SeaTheChange and sea you out there next year!
The OC shares their annual report on their website (www.oceanconservancy.org/trash-free-seas) after every year’s collection of data from around the world. You can get on Broward County’s email list for next year’s announcements, by emailing email@example.com.