Children and adults have been combing the beaches over the past few weeks removing trash from the island’s shorelines as part of the internationally recognized Coastweeks.
Celebrated throughout the world for the past 21 years and locally for the past 12, the Ocean Conservancy-sponsored event focuses not only on removing debris but also recording what type of trash is found.
Launched on September 15, Coastweeks will continue locally through October 6 with cleanups planned on beaches from Kiddel Bay to Frank Bay.
Good Turnout for 2007
Despite being in the middle of slow season, residents have been coming out in force to support the effort, explained Kristen Maize, project director for Friends of the V.I. National Park.
“It’s been going really well — we’ve had a wonderful turnout so far,” said Maize. “Most of the people who adopted beaches are following up with their commitment. It’s a tough time of year with a lot of people off-island, but it’s still going really well.”
School children pitched in also with Pat Mortenson’s fifth grade at Julius E. Sprauve School cleaning up Cruz Bay beach on Tuesday morning, September 24.
Led by VINP Education Specialist Laurel “Big Rigg” Brannick, the 14 students collected everything from plastic cups and duct tape to magazines and beer bottles. Cigarette butts, however, were the most abundant type of trash found on the beach by far.
Keep Butts Off Beach
“I don’t know what makes cigarette smokers think they can just throw their butts on the ground,” said Brannick. “Maybe people don’t think it’s litter, but it is and they really add up.”
In a new twist this year, students will see trash transformed into treasure, Brannick explained.
“We’re going to separate all glass bottles that we find and when Maho Bay Glass Works reopens in November, the kids are going to make paper weights or glass beads,” she said. “So in addition to cleaning up the shoreline, they are actually going to be recycling the trash.”
Before the students even hit the beach, however, Brannick taught the class about coastal habitat.
“The kids learned all about the different coastal habitats, from salt ponds to mangroves,” said Brannick. “We’re trying to get the kids to really have a connection to the coast and go beyond just the one Coastweeks event. We’re going to follow up with a trip to Mary’s Creek so the kids learn and see first hand the mangroves and seagrass habitat.”
Mortenson, the first female lifeguard at Trunk Bay, is no stranger to Coastweeks herself.
Long History with Coastweeks
“I was one of the first people to start collecting Coastweeks data locally,” said the JESS fifth grade teacher. “Coastweeks is one of my favorite projects so I was really happy to have our class participate. Over the years we’ve collected a lot of things with the strangest probably being a missile casing from a naval ship.”
The students also enjoyed doing their part to keep their island clean.
“I like that we’re picking up garbage and cleaning up the beach,” said Makeda Dawson.
“It’s important because it takes a million years for a bottle to break down,” said Tyler Hendricks. “We have to keep the beach clean for turtles and other animals too.”
“Cleaning the beach is important because the shorelines need to be clean for animals and people,” said Igdaliah Pickering.
Adopt-a-Beach Nets Results
Friends officials and volunteers even got into the action, sprucing up Drunk Bay on September 15.
“The beach looked the best we’ve ever seen it,” said Maize. “It was wonderful because we didn’t have as many volunteers as we’ve had in the past. With the way the beach looked though, we weren’t overwhelmed.”
“It goes to show what an impact the people have who clean up Drunk Bay all year,” Maize continued. “People are making a big effort to keep the beaches with heavy use clean.”
Civic Groups Participate
A number of island organizations and residents have participated in Coastweeks as well.
Coral Bay Community Council members have already cleaned Grootpan Bay, the folks at Holiday Homes tidied up Reef Bay, Maho Bay Camps personnel spruced up Big
Maho Bay and Francis Bay and St. John Rotary members cleared Jumbie Beach.
Additional cleanups planned include the Skinny Legs family tidying up the coast from Brown Bay to Leinster Bay, St. John Brewers owners and friends taking care of the
Lind Point Trail and Solomon and Honeymoon Beaches, and the folks at R&I Patton cleaning both North and South Haulover.
Other Schools Involved
Guy Benjamin School students will spruce up Brown Bay and Gifft Hill School students will clean up Leinster Bay.
For more information about upcoming cleanups or Friends’ Adopt-a-Beach/Trail program contact Maize at 779-4940.