While much of the garbage contaminating the sea originates from cargo ships, cruise liners, and military vessels disposing of waste overboard, an estimated 60-80 percent of beach garbage originates on land. Cigarette butts, plastic bags, fishing line, six-pack rings, bottles, cans, syringes, tires are just a few of the items commonly found polluting our beaches and waterways. This debris is not only ugly, it can be a human health and safety risk, and is hazardous to wildlife.
Thirty-six years ago, the NEC received federal funding for its Humboldt Beach Beautification and Restoration project, which combined beach cleanup with community education and job training. In 1985, the NEC’s project expanded into the statewide California Coastal Cleanup Day (led by the Coastal Commission) and the International Coastal Cleanup (led by the Ocean Conservancy).
Today, the International Coastal Cleanup includes 130 countries and all 50 states in the U.S. In 2011, 598,076 volunteers throughout the world removed nine million pounds of debris from 20,776 miles of shoreline.
This year’s event will also provide one of the first opportunities for the NEC and other cleanup organizers to document any debris on our shores that may have washed up as a result of last year’s devastating tsunami in Japan, when an estimated 1.5 million tons of debris was washed out to sea.
The West Coast has already begun to feel the impacts of that debris. Items as small as a soccer ball and as large as a 100-ton pier have washed ashore north of the California border. None of the items recovered in Humboldt County so far - including those found on Mad River Beach in June - have been confirmed to be tsunami debris.
To achieve a better understanding of when or if the debris from the tsunami is reaching our shores, the NEC, in coordination with the Coastal Commission, will be distributing a new, simplified data card for use at select beaches. These data cards will collect information about items that could potentially indicate tsunami debris, and will provide a baseline of data against which future cleanups will be measured.
”Given that Humboldt County’s coastline will likely be among the first to be hit in the state, we expect the NEC’s Tsunami Debris Monitoring Program will be helpful not only in gathering data, but serving as a watchdog for counties to the south,” said Dan Ehresman, NEC programs manager. “While Japan’s tsunami will likely increase the amount of debris washing up on shorelines on the North Coast, we hope it does not take the attention away from the fact that we have a veritable tsunami of debris coming from our own shorelines and inland areas throughout the county.”
For those who cannot attend Coastal Cleanup Day on Sept. 15 but would like to help out, please visit www.yournec.org for other ways to get involved. For more information on last year’s cleanup or any of the new initiatives planned for 2012, please visit www.coastalcleanupday.org.
The NEC is also seeking sponsorships from business and organizations to support the coastal cleanup effort. Please contact Dan Ehresman at (707) 822-6918 to become a sponsor.