The 26th annual coastal cleanup event, Coastweeks, kicks off Sept. 17.
“Marine debris is all over our coastal areas,” said Marcia Taylor, a marine advisor at the UVI St. Croix campus.
Plastic in the ocean is breaking down into small particles that are finding their way into the food chain, Taylor said, providing just one reason to clean up the coasts.
“And we want to develop stewardship in the community,” she said.
Coastweeks, called International Coastal Cleanup in many other locations, is an annual global event that kicks off Sept. 17. It lasts through September and on some islands, through October.
Participants catalog each piece of debris removed from beaches to develop data on what gets left behind by beachgoers or washes in from the seas.
Last year, 368 people on St. Thomas, 412 on St. Croix and 177 on St. John participated. On St. Thomas, they picked up 3,189 pounds of debris. The number stood at 3,252 on St. Croix and 2,225 on St. John.
The volunteers found some interesting things on the territory’s beaches. They picked up shotgun shells, appliances and syringes on all three islands. More people must be smoking at the beach on St. Thomas because participants picked up 1,468 cigarettes and cigarette filters on that island compared to 453 on St. John and 211 on St. Thomas.
Beach cleaners also found 195 condoms on St. Croix beaches, compared to only one on St. John and 80 on St. Thomas.
Taylor said that so far on Sept. 17, the Educational Complex plans to clean up Dorsch Beach, Good Hope School will clean up Columbus Landing, and the St. Croix Environmental Association will tackle debris at the organization’s Southgate Coastal Reserve. On Sept. 18, UVI’s science classes will clean up Altoona Lagoon.
On St. Thomas, Taylor’s counterpart at UVI, Christine Settar, leads the way. She said the island’s kickoff will also be held Sept. 17 with a clean up at Brewers Beach. It runs from 8 a.m. to noon.
St. John’s Coastweeks kickoff is sponsored by the Friends of V.I. National Park with a clean up of Drunk Bay. It starts at 9 a.m.
The Friends program manager, Audrey Penn, said that the trash that turns up at Drunk Bay washes in from places like the nearby William Thornton restaurant on Norman Islands, as well as more distant locations like St. Maarten and Europe.
However, debris found at places like Mary’s Creek and other north shore locations comes straight across the Sir Francis Drake Channel from the Tortola dump at Pockwood Pond.
She said it’s particularly important that Coastweeks occurs during hurricane season because it gives the participants a chance to get it off the beach before a storm washes it back out.
Groups are still signing up to participate on all three islands, and Taylor said she has a grant from the V.I. Waste Management Authority to fund transportation for groups that need it so they can clean up a beach.
On St. John, Penn is asking that contractors or anyone with a supply of five-gallon plastic buckets either loan or donate them to the Friends to use instead of plastic bags for the clean ups.
“We’re trying to minimize the use of plastic bags,” she said.
Settar said that even if people can’t participate in the actual cleanup they can help by donating supplies and transportation for student groups to cleanup sites.
“If you own a boat, we could use a lift to hard-to-access locations,” she said.
Reach Settar at 693-1392, Taylor at 692-4046 and Penn at 779-4940.