Volunteers head west for waste

Strolling the Olympic Peninsula’s coastlines can be breathtaking, until someone trips on derelict fishing line.

With the ocean’s tides come tons of plastic, rubber and other garbage, especially after winter storms. Volunteers who comb the beaches for refuse took out 23 tons of garbage in the spring of 2007 alone, a significant chunk but nowhere near the total garbage load of Washington’s beaches.

Now, in 2008, the ninth year of organized beach cleanups, the Washington CoastSavers are looking for more volunteers to make a bigger dent in the garbage coating the coastlines during the Saturday, April 26, event.

“It is simply amazing to walk these beautiful beaches, let alone to get fulfillment by packing out as much garbage as one can in a day,” said Sequim’s Liam Antrim, of NOAA’s Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, one of several organizations teamed up in the CoastSavers alliance. “The stuff you find is amazing and you’re sure to make friends with other volunteers.”

In 2007, more than 800 volunteers showed for the Earth Day-based event. Antrim is hoping for more in 2008.

Nine years ago a Seattle man named Jan Klippert started the program, gathering people around him to clean up trash along the Olympic National Park coastlines. Popularity grew along with the scope of the project and now most moderately accessible points on the coast have sign-in stations handing out collection bags to volunteers.

“Jan has had an amazing influence on the beauty of Washington’s coastlines and the alliance is proud to carry the torch of beach cleanups,” Antrim said. Klippert died in January. “He was so happy to see his work continue.”

Most of the debris is not directly littered onto the beach. Instead, it washes up from the ocean where it may have been floating for weeks or years after being tossed, dropped, dumped, abandoned or washed in with street litter transported by storm drains.

While cleaning up the garbage improves the look of the beaches, it also improves wildlife habitat. Plastic marine debris affects at least 267 species worldwide, including 44 percent of all sea bird species and 43 percent of marine mammal species through entanglement or ingestion.

“Almost 90 percent of floating marine debris is plastic and due to its durability, buoyancy and ability to absorb and concentrate toxins present in the ocean, plastic is especially harmful to marine life,” said David Lindau from the Northwest Interpretive Association. “With plastic filling their stomachs, animals have a false feeling of being full and may die of starvation.”

On the cleanup day, volunteers take every piece of unnatural debris that they can carry and report that which is too heavy or entangled, so it can be retrieved later. Then, after the full day of garbage collection, volunteers are treated to a beachside barbecue.

“This is where people really socialize and share stories of what they found in the sand, wedged between logs or tossed into the forest by storm waves,” Antrim said. “The variety of garbage washed up on the beach is amazing.”

Antrim said as CoastSavers moves forward as the event’s organizers, it may expand to doing a fall cleanup as well.

“There are remote areas of the beach that we don’t really send volunteers to because of tides and their ability to pull that garbage back to an access point,” Antrim said. “So we may do a fall program where we bring in a helicopter to remove caches of garbage that people collect in remote places and leave for air extraction.”

While larger organizations are teaming to organize the event, Antrim said much of its operation remains grassroots. He said the people involved enjoy the beaches and feel drawn to cleaning them up and supporting their other, natural visitors.

Box: The Washington CoastSavers alliance suggests several ways to reduce your impact:

• Don’t litter anywhere

• Cut rings of six-pack holders

• Buy recycled products

• Keep storm drains clean of litter

• Keep cigarette butts in garbage

• Educate others/volunteer to clean up

Box: For more information about the April 26 Washington Coast Cleanup Day or to sign up as a volunteer, visit or call 206-220-4279. Volunteers unable to pack garbage are needed to staff registration stations and monetary donations are accepted as well.

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