Trash Talkin'

It’s normal for island beaches to be littered with clam shells and seaweed. But when trash litters local beaches, it threatens the health and safety of the Island’s wildlife.

A Whidbey Island environmental organization is recruiting volunteers to keep this threat to a minimum.

The big purifying push leads to a plentiful pile, however. With the help of these volunteers, the beach cleanup program removes about one ton of trash every month from beaches all over the island.

Every week throughout the year, Whidbey and Camano Island beaches are scoured for garbage. Last Saturday, Freeland Park beaches were cleaned.

The trash-removal effort is being funded by a grant from the state Department of Ecology, and carried out by Fort Casey Lighthouse Environmental Programs.

The Community Litter Cleanup Fund relies on volunteers for help.

Janet Hall, WSU/Island County Waste Wise volunteer coordinator believes it’s important to keep our island beaches clean, not only because trash along the beach is an eyesore, but also for the health and safety of wildlife.

“It’s incredibly important to me to protect and preserve our natural wildlife,” Hall said.

Trash on Whidbey Island beaches comes from two sources. One is from people on the land, and the other is ocean-delivered trash that drifts onto beaches from the sea.

“We get a lot of stuff that we don’t generate on Whidbey, but comes from all over the Sound,” Hall said.

Volunteers that gather trash are given all the gear they need to beautify the beaches.

“I provide the gloves, the bag and the educational components about what we’re looking for, and why we’re bothering to pick it up,” said beach cleanup contractor Cheryl May.

She said one of the most common - and the most dangerous - trash item found on Whidbey beaches is styrofoam.

“If birds eat that they have no way to get rid of it. So it just collects and collects in their guts,” May said. “Then they die of starvation because no food can go in there — there’s not enough room.”

Styrofoam is detrimental to fish, too.

The problem? It floats. So when fish eat styrofoam it increases their buoyancy, and causes them to swim closer to the surface.

“If you’re a fish on top, then you’re lunch,” May said.

Another item especially detrimental to wildlife is fishing line.

“Fishing line is really dangerous,” May said. She said animals are easily caught up and entangled by this material.

“Even though fisherman try their best not to leave their line behind, we find lots of line during the fishing season,” May said.

The program coordinator is glad to have dedicated volunteers donate their time to keep the beaches cleaner and safer for marine critters.

“Volunteers come out no matter what the weather — if the rain’s going sideways — they come anyway,” she said.

But, May said, she could always use more volunteers.

“It’s a really good way to meet people, to go out and help your community. And it only takes an hour,” she said.

The work isn’t all that bad, either.

“It’s not terribly strenuous and it’s not dirty,” May said. “You think picking up trash would be dirty, but it’s all been washed by the ocean 500 times, so it’s pretty clean trash.”

The clean-up program enhances its environmental bang-for-the-buck by recycling whenever possible.

“We try to recycle as much as we can out of the bags,” May said.

“Some of there things are in good enough shape to be recycled, but some of them, because they’ve been in the water for so long, are not recyclable anymore.”

The program follows the age-old principle every mother teaches her children - to clean up after themselves.

“We try to do our part to get rid of the stuff that we put there,” May said.

The result is cleaner and safer beaches for both humans and their animal friends.

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