A beach park may seem like a vacation, but there’s so much more that goes on just below the surface. There is a lot of hard work that gets done at Assateague Island National Seashore. As our site’s CVA, I’m privileged to have a first-hand look at the hard work being done.
We have lifeguards and law enforcement officers who patrol our park and keep our visitors safe. We have a dedicated natural resource division that protect plants and wildlife in the far corners of our island and beyond. Our interpretation staff educates the public about marine life and wild horses.
But another dedicated group cares about our island’s well-being too. They don’t wear the green-and-gray, but that doesn’t mean they don’t serve. They educate about horse safety, they serve in our campgrounds, and they provide the National Park Service with much needed support. Our volunteers! This past year, over 600 volunteers dedicated over 10,000 hours of service for the good of Assateague Island National Seashore. And one of the great services they provide? Keeping Assateague clean.
Every year, our volunteers and partners remove hundreds of pounds of trash from the beaches and bays of Assateague Island. This service may seem small in comparison to the growing issue of ocean trash, but small actions have large impacts.
Boy Scout Troop 1946 dedicated a day of service to cleaning our South Ocean Beach this year!
You may ask why this happens. Where does all this trash come from? Well our waste can end up in our oceans in several ways. The most common explanation is that it comes in the form of litter. People who discard their trash on the ground. One of the most common forms of litter is small. It’s something that many people don’t think of as having a big impact. Cigarette butts.
We see it all the time; someone flicks the end of their cigarette out their car window or on the ground, embers still burning. Cigarette butts are small, so they can’t be that big of a problem, right? Every year, the most common item by far picked up during The Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup are cigarette butts. What’s more is that people think of these as a biodegradable item. It’s just paper, right? Nope. Cigarette filters are what’s used to prevent some chemicals from entering our lungs when we smoke a cigarette. These filters contain compounds such as nicotine, ammonia, nitrates, and sulfuric acid. And these compounds can leech into the water and soil they end up landing in. When they end up in the ocean, the chemical compounds can release enough toxins to kill fish and other ocean life.
Here’s some happy news. We’re picking these up! Small actions have large impacts. During a cleanup with Pittsville Middle School this June, we removed roughly 25 pounds of trash, including many cigarette butts. That may not seem like a lot. Consider for a moment, though, that during our cleanup we engaged a class of 90 kids about ocean waste. During this time, we asked them questions like “Where did this come from?” and “What can we do to prevent this from happening again?” Small actions have large impacts.
And you might be wondering, “how can I help?”, “What can I do to make our beaches clean and stay clean?” Well there’s a lot you can do! First, think about how trash ends up on the beach. It’s from us. So what ways can you reduce the amount of waste you produce? Maybe using a reusable water bottle or taking reusable grocery bags to the store. Secondly, do your part. Volunteer! Many efforts already exist: the International Coastal Cleanup and Adopt-A-Beach programs. And if you’re in the Eastern Shore area on National Public Lands Day this year (September 28th), come to Assateague! Each year on the last Saturday of September, we host a park-wide event to clean our beaches and bays.
Billy Weiland of Assateague Coastal Trust (www.actforbays.org), weighing trash collected during one of their cleanup events.
Of course, you can just go yourself too! Hundreds of millions of people head to the beach each year. So while you’re scanning the beaches for seashells, pick up a few pieces of trash too. If everyone picked up 3-5 pieces of trash each time they visited the beach, maybe our oceans wouldn’t need so much help. So maybe a beach park is vacation, but why can’t it be a chance to volunteer too? I hope to see you out there.
Written by Joseph Schell, CVA at Assateague Island National Seashore