September 17, 2008
Volunteers to clean up banks of the Mohawk
CLIFTON PARK — A worldwide effort to clean up beaches will have local participation Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon on the banks of the Mohawk River.
Volunteers are invited to pitch in during the local effort of the Ocean Conservancy’s 23rd annual International Coastal Cleanup at the fishing area at the lower end of the New York Power Authority’s Vischer Ferry dam on Sugarhill and Riverview roads. Organizers of the local effort said while there are many riverfront areas in the region that could be cleaned up, this spot was selected because it is heavily used for fishing and hiking, and people often leave behind debris.
The international cleanup is held the third weekend in September. Last year, 378,000 volunteers in 76 countries removed 6 million pounds of trash, and that amount is growing each year, according to event organizers.
Sites that will be combed by volunteers this weekend include major beaches across the state, such as Long Island Sound, the Hudson River, Atlantic Ocean, and the Great Lakes and Finger Lakes, as well as many creeks and bays. Volunteers do more than pick up and remove trash: They also classify and record everything they find to gain a snapshot of what’s out there clogging waterfront areas.
Data cards are filled out and then sent to the American Littoral Society Northeast Chapter, which oversees the statewide cleanup efforts. Headquartered in Broad Channel, N.Y., the nonprofit, environmental organization works to raise awareness of issues affecting the littoral zone, which is the area on the beach between low and high tide.
The information is also shared with Ocean Conservancy officials, who identify sources of the debris and recommend solutions to reduce threats to humans and wildlife.
Ocean Conservancy officials are also interested in tracking the varieties of wildlife that wash ashore.
Barbara Cohen, beach cleanup coordinator for New York state, said there are trends in the types of trash collected by the volunteers.
“We look at where it’s coming from, and it’s no surprise most of the litter comes from people,” Cohen said. “Fortunately, there’s less medical waste washing up on the shores, but the number of bottles and cans is on the rise.”
Cohen said at least two-thirds are non-deposit containers that can’t be returned for a refund.
“That’s why our group is lobbying for a better bottle bill that would include all drink containers, even juice and power drink bottles,” Cohen said. “It’s also important for young people to see what’s polluting the shores. When they see food wrappers from McDonald’s, maybe they’ll think twice about using a proper waste receptacle instead of just letting stuff blow away. It’s a learning experience for them.”
Cohen said the data also helps conservationists keep an eye on possible dumping from companies that are not allowed to discard any waste materials in waterways.
“We do a lot of investigative work on things we find; if there’s a company name or address on items, we’ll track it down,” Cohen said. “We do everything we can to find the source of the pollution.”
Joanne Coon teaches environmental science at Shenendehowa High School. About 20 of her students will don gloves and head to the shore Saturday for the cleanup. Last year at the Vischer Ferry dam, students and other workers hauled out 150 pounds of trash, filling 13 industrial-sized disposal bags.
“The kids aren’t squeamish; they get right in there and pick things up,” Coon said. “The number one thing we found was food wrappers, followed by fishing line. One year, we found an old animal trap.”
Coon said students in her class, who study pollution, population and the overall human influence on the biology of the environment, obtain extra points for volunteer work.
“They can earn 20 points per quarter for service outside the classroom that’s related to what we study, but I find the problem is finding opportunities for them to go help out in the community,” Coon said. “They need more ways to get involved.”
Once the debris is picked up and categorized, it’s bagged and carted away by town crews to either a recycling facility or the town’s regular disposal site.
Cohen said volunteers found during a recent cleanup on Long Island a large section of a house that was blown off from a heavy storm over Fire Island. “But upstate, you mostly see shopping carts and tires,” Cohen said.
While the cleanup effort relies on the strength of volunteers, one person once walked away with a monetary reward.
“Once in Long Island, someone found a hundred dollar bill,” Cohen said. “Maybe they bought everyone lunch.”
Information on the annual International Coastal Clean up can be found on the American Littoral Society Web site — www.alsnyc.org.