Rider students and faculty alike wait in childlike awe for the start of the beach season. Going to the beach, especially along the Jersey shore is the best thing a New Jersey native or non-native could do over the summer. The sun, long awaited warmth, and refreshing Atlantic Ocean brings a rush of excitement to every beach goer. However, for every fantastical getaway, there lies a secret environmental issue that a lot of people tune out when the summer months are among us. Along any coast, plastic pollution has become a major concern.
The Guardian estimates that one million plastic bottles are used per minute globally, but what does this mean for our oceans? It means that our oceans have become the ultimate graveyard for single-use plastic items, and this problem has become very apparent along our coasts.
When asked about her experience, junior Eco-Rep and biology major, Brianne Gallina, said, “I work and live along the New Jersey coast. Over the course of my life, I have begun to notice the plastic pollution more and more as I got older. But now with Point Pleasant banning plastic bags, the trash I’ve seen has been greatly reduced.”
To help solve this problem beach towns use beach combers, which are massive, glorified sand sifters. These vehicles catch all the debris that has washed up on shore, as well as any garbage left behind by the previous day’s guests. Every day these massive machines are fired up at 6a.m., and depending on the beach’s size, may not complete a full clean-up circuit until 1 p.m. The machine picks up anything from plastic straws, bottle caps, flip flops, fishing equipment, cigarette butts, cigars, wood debris, glass and broken toys. Although the process of using one of these beach combers is financially taxing for any beach town or state park, the machines saves millions of pounds of single-use plastics from reaching the ocean.
During the off season, the beach cleaning initiatives come to an end. To help combat plastic pollution during the off season, hundreds of people volunteer to clean it up by hand. Here at Rider University, the Office of Sustainability provides Rider students with the opportunity to volunteer as well. Once a semester, a group of eco-conscious individuals make the hour long trek to places like Island Beach State Park, one of the sites where the Clean Ocean Actions’ Beach Sweep is held. According to Clean Ocean Action, “the goal of the Beach Sweeps is to reduce and eliminate sources of litter. The Beach Sweeps events are more than people picking-up trash from beaches. This program builds community support for solutions, as well as raises awareness about the negative impacts of litter on wildlife and the ocean.”
When asked about her experience at the previous Beach Sweep she attended with Rider, evironmental science major Kristen Castronuovo said, “It was a really amazing experience. The group was able to collect a ton of trash. We found things like: cigarette butts, glass, toys, balloons, fishing lines, fire debris, plastic gloves, nails, and straws.”
All of the materials collected are documented by the Beach Sweep volunteer groups and the data is ultimately submitted by Clean Ocean Action to the Ocean Conservancy in Washington, DC, as part of its international database on marine debris and worldwide campaign against ocean pollution.
Last spring the beach sweep volunteers collected 204,943 items, ranging from food wrappers to drink bottles, to light bulbs and newspapers. This year, the Eco-Reps will be bringing volunteers to Island Beach State Park on Saturday, October 20th for this semester’s annual beach sweep, leaving bright and early to lend a hand in keeping our shorelines clean. You can come spend the day at the beach and help clean it up too! Please email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “beach sweep” if you are interested in more information.
Lawrenceville Campus Eco Rep