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COASTWEEKS CLEANUPS GET UNDER WAY SATURDAY

Sept. 19, 2003 – For the 12th year in row, Virgin Islands residents will join people around the world in picking up trash from coastal areas during the annual CoastWeeks observance.
CoastWeeks, organized globally by The Ocean Conservancy, begins Saturday and ends Oct. 4. While The Ocean Conservancy officially calls the event an International Coastal Cleanup, locally and in some other locales it is commonly referred to as CoastWeeks.
In addition to picking debris up from beaches, participants keep a log of what they pick up. The accumulated data give decision makers statistics to work with in formulating policies.
"And it increases awareness about the impact of marine debris," said Marcia Taylor, marine adviser of the University of the Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service on St. Croix.
Taylor expects about 650 people from some 16 schools, dive shops and the St. Croix Environmental Association, as well as individuals, to do cleanups along the island's shores over the next two weeks.
"I've got so many groups, I'm running out of supplies," she said on Friday.
On St. Thomas and St. John, Donna Griffin of the Fish and Wildlife Division of the Planning and Natural Resources Department is organizing CoastWeeks events. She said she expects about 500 people, mainly from school and community groups, to participate in cleanups this year.
Griffin said that cleaning the beaches is important because so many people leave their cigarette butts in the sand while at the shore. She suggested that school groups paint coffee cans to fill with sand for smokers to use as ashtrays at the beach.
Last year, 736 Virgin Islands CoastWeeks participants collected 27,652 items of marine debris weighing 26,455 pounds from 23 miles of shoreline. Included in the total were 492 items retrieved by divers scouring eight underwater miles.
Here's a breakdown of the types of debris that accounted for most of what was cleaned up last year:
Container caps and lids – 15.1 percent.
Plastic beverage bottles – 13.7 percent.
Glass beverage bottles – 12.4 percent.
Cups, plates, forks, knives and spoons – 10.3 percent.
Beverage cans – 8.6 percent.
Food wrappers and containers – 8.3 percent.
Bags – 6.5 percent.
Straws and stirrers – 4.8 percent.
Cigarettes and cigarette filters – 4.8 percent.
Clothing and shoes – 2.2 percent.
On the Virgin Islands list were 2,869 items considered dangerous to marine life. They included 1,797 bags and much smaller numbers of balloons; crab, lobster and fish traps; fishing line and nets; plastic sheeting and tarps; rope; plastic six-pack holders; strapping bands and syringes.
"Some people think that a little bit of trash thrown into the water isn't a big deal," said Seba Sheavly, director of the Office of Pollution Prevention and Monitoring for The Ocean Conservancy. But, she added, "even a small amount of trash can mean life or death to sea turtles, birds and fish."
Most of the debris found during the 2002 cleanup came from land-based sources such as beach picnics, inappropriate or illegal dumping, and general littering.
"What people don't realize is that trash travels," Sheavly said. "A piece of trash on the street gets washed into storm drains and eventually winds up in our oceans."
Globally, more than 391,000 people from 100 countries participated in CoastWeeks last year. They combed over 12,410 miles of shorelines and waterways to pick up 8.2 million pounds of debris.
Volunteers around the world also found 259 animals entangled in the debris. According to information provided by The Ocean Conservancy, more than a million birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles die each year from being entangled in or eating marine debris.

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