(Part one of a two-part story. See also: The Great Canadian Shoreline Cleanup Takes Trash, Leaves Footprints)
Firefighters. Nuns. Seniors. Businesses. Moms. Dads. School kids. They hit local beaches and shorelines by the thousands each year for the September Adopt-a-Beach cleanup held in the U.S. Great Lakes states.
This year’s event, held Sept. 20, was no different. At last count, with just under half of the events reporting, some 4,800 volunteers reported clearing shorelines and recording data for more than 14,300 pounds of trash.
Plastic pollution collected during the September cleanup. Credit: Lloyd DeGrane, Alliance for the Great Lakes.
Jamie Cross, who coordinates the event as manager of the Alliance for the Great Lakes’ Adopt-a-Beach Program, says the September cleanup is on track to be as successful as last year’s, which saw more than 6,800 volunteers pick up 16,660 pounds of trash along 239 shoreline locations.
“These people epitomize what it means to ‘act locally,’ and they’re passionate about the Great Lakes and their communities,” she says.
Adopt-a-Beach volunteers come from all walks of life to clean up shorelines, as well as perform basic science-based observations and water quality tests. Just a couple of examples:
In Evanston, Illinois, 24 young volunteers and their families representing the Justin Wynn Leadership Academy cleared 60 pounds of trash from their local Clark Street Beach. The academy, named for an exemplary 9-year-old who died in an accident in 1987, is a collaborative leadership and community improvement program that cultivates potential young leaders.
In Racine, Wisconsin, three crews of firemen showed up at Carre-Hogle Park, a park named for two fallen Racine firemen. The additional brawn was put to good use, with some firefighters clearing invasive plants to improve the park’s Lake Michigan view while others picked up shoreline litter.
In Muskegon, Michigan, this was the first time in 23 years that Cynthia Price couldn’t lead a cleanup at Pere Marquette Beach. Rather than cancel, she called her sister in Chicago who stepped right up to coordinate volunteers.
The September cleanup is the Great Lakes leg of a larger International Coastal Cleanup targeting ocean coastlines.
Four student groups clearing Chicago’s North Beach found an easy way to connect this year’s international and regional cleanup events, noting the oceans and Great Lakes now share a common enemy: plastic pollution. Posting to Facebook — as dozens of Adopt-a-Beach teams do each year — the groups said they’ll turn some of their collected plastic into a coral reef mosaic to underscore the unprecedented rate at which reefs are dying in the world’s oceans. “Our mosaic will urge people to rethink their daily choices, their consumption of plastics and act to preserve our waters,” they posted.
The Holland State Park cleanup was led by Michigan Awesome. Credit: Jamie Cross, Alliance for the Great Lakes.
Collectively, Adopt-a-Beach volunteers can indeed be agents of change. Years of litter data recorded by volunteers with the September event and the Alliance’s year-round Adopt-a-Beach program — which now numbers some 11,500 volunteers annually from all five Great Lakes and the eight states they border — has helped call federal attention to the problem of marine debris in the Great Lakes. The result: This summer’s release of the first-ever U.S. federal action plan to address Great Lakes marine debris.
On Sept. 20, many teams paused to pose with posters showing their support for clean Great Lakes drinking water, then shared their photos on social media. The posters were a show of solidarity with Toledo residents, nearly 500,000 suffered a 2 ½-day drinking water ban in August caused by a massive toxic algal bloom on Lake Erie.
September Adopt-a-Beach continues throughout the month in some communities. Adopt-a-Beach teams will start up again in April 2015, ensuring our beaches are clean and our lakes free of trash for next year’s beach season.