PROVINCETOWN — The first group of beach walkers departed Coast Guard Beach in Eastham bound for Lecount Hollow in Wellfleet on Friday, Sept. 24. Buckets in hand, they scanned the shore. They were not gathering shells or driftwood. Their finds were manmade and were destined to be carefully catalogued, like items in an archeological dig. They were collecting trash.
The brigade was brought together by Laura Ludwig, the marine debris coordinator at the Center for Coastal Studies (CCS), with help from Anthony Daley, an oysterman from Dennis who has organized many cleanups along the back shore. The group was one of four that, in four stages and deployed over four days, covered the 28 miles from Coast Guard Beach to Race Point Beach in Provincetown.
For each stretch of beach that was cleaned, a cache of trash was stacked away from the breaking waves and high tide line and marked “data collection, do not touch.” The coordinates of each cache was then sent to National Seashore headquarters, so rangers could retrieve what Ludwig estimated to be about 1,000 pounds of debris in all.
This coming weekend, CCS staff and volunteers will converge on the pile at Mike Winkler’s crane garage in Truro to sort it by category — bottle caps, plastic pieces, fishing gear. The data logged will improve researchers’ understanding of the sources and effects of the trash on our shores.
An open house will follow the cataloguing work on Sunday, Oct. 10 from 4 to 6 p.m. All are invited to behold the volume of trash and take mementos for art projects before it is removed for recycling and disposal. “Showing the public what we find,” Daley hopes, “might be enough to change people’s minds about their habits.”
“I can get really depressed about single-use plastic items, like masks, balloons, chip bags,” said Ludwig. On the other hand, she added, “My most profound experience over the four days of walking was to be with all these people who were there, ultimately, because they wanted to make a difference.”
“There shouldn’t be this much left behind by humans,” said Crystal Santos of Yarmouth. Santos is studying marine science safety and environmental protection at Massachusetts Maritime Academy. She joined the group for day three — the Truro stretch from Ballston Beach to High Head — with her nine-year-old daughter, Jaelyn. After seeing all the trash that was collected, Santos added, “Jaelyn hasn’t stopped talking about what we can do to be a part of the solution.”
Marjorie Mason Kehne, a trustee of the Provincetown Conservation Trust, walked all four days of the cleanup. Seeing so much debris that had accumulated, she said, “I became more acutely aware of the dilemma we have at hand on Earth.”
“There’s a lot more consumer debris on the beaches I grew up going to,” said Natalie MacDonald, a recent University of Rhode Island graduate who grew up north of Boston and is now an intern at the Center for Coastal Studies. “Here,” she said, “I saw a lot of fishing gear as well as bits and pieces of trash broken up by the North Atlantic.”