Mashomack beach clean up produces 30 bags of trash

The International Coastal Clean Up takes place each fall at thousands of locations around the world. Mashomack has participated annually, and last Saturday was no exception. An enthusiastic crew of 45 gathered at the Harman Hawkins Visitor Center and learned the importance of removing debris from the beach.

Many of the volunteers were Shelter Island middle school students, encouraged by Science Coordinator Sharon Gibbs to give back to the land through community service. The students also qualified for extra credit. Ms. “Science” Gibbs was happy to see that all grades 4 through 8 were represented. “It’s great that they are making the connection between their personal actions and the state of the world,” she said.

The well-informed students knew that sea turtles can mistake plastic bags and balloons for jellyfish and eat them, sometimes leading to death. Other animals can become entangled. The trash is unsightly and ruins the pristine habitat for nesting and foraging birds.

The group divided into eight teams, each with adult leaders and a specific stretch of beach to clean. Sharon Gibbs and Sharon Wicks took their crew to the Miss Annie’s and Log Cabin Creek areas. Brian Gallagher and Steve Jacobs tackled Major’s Point to Bass Creek and north to Log Cabin Creek. Mike Laspia, Jern Keller, Prima Evangelista, Doreen Tybert and Nell Lowell headed to Sungic Point where they scoured the beaches along Coecles Harbor and Gardiner’s Bay. Michelle Corbett, Mike Dunning and myself started at Rocky Point and collected along that eastern shore.

The sunny beaches seemed relatively clean but we still found about 30 bags of trash along the six miles of coastline. As the debris was collected, careful count of the type of trash was recorded. This data is forwarded to the Ocean Conservancy, which tracks trends in marine debris, and helps raise awareness and initiate legislation to keep our waters clean.

The 180 pounds collected were separated into recyclable plastic, glass and metal, as well as trash. The most common trash was shotgun shells. One hundred and forty-six had floated up onto Mashomack’s shores, primarily from waterfowl shooting. Balloons and their colorful ribbons came in second with 113, and 106 food wrappers and containers were found. The trash found on the beaches washes up after getting blown or thrown off boats or washing off streets and other beaches. Mason Marcello had perhaps the most unusual find: a skeleton — originally thought to be a fox — was later determined to be a raccoon.

“The Nature Conservancy is proud to be part of a region-wide effort to keep our beaches and bays clean,” said Mike Laspia, Mashomack Preserve director.

“Between shellfish restoration, which helps filter the water, and beach clean up that removes the larger flotsam, our volunteers can really make a positive impact on their environment.”