A local couple has made the best of their almost daily walks on Assateague Island, converting most of their daily findings over the last year into an interesting report (see chart). Last week, they shared with me exactly what they spent most of their time picking up between April 1, 2008 and March 31, 2009.
Berlin residents Lynne Lockhart and Kirk McBride, perhaps best known as talented artists in the regional culture world, have been walking the same three-mile stretch of Assateague Island National Seashore most mornings for years. They estimate making the trek an average of 20 to 25 days per month over the last year. Along the way, with their dog, Minnie, more than likely lending a paw, they have picked up tons of trash, specifically nearly 1,700 balloons, 500-plus toys and 100-plus shoes, from the dune fence to the ocean’s edge.
They started tracking their daily walks after reading articles about the dangers trash and related debris pose to aquatic- and terra-based wildlife. Here’s some interesting observations the couple reported:
— An average of 563 balloons found per mile of beach per year. Given that Assateague is approximately 17 miles long, simple math dictates approximately 9,571 balloons find their way to the beach at Assateague each year. This is the ocean side only.
— It was common to see pony dung that included bits of plastic wrappers.
— In the fall, there is a slow but noticeable transition from Hershey’s Milk Chocolate wrappers to Beef Jerky wrappers.
— During full moons, the ocean purges itself of sunglasses, swim goggles and super heroes.
— Every so often a frustrated fisherman will leave behind rod, reel, bait and tackle.
— Non-alcoholic beverage containers found, in order of popularity, were water, Gatorade, Mountain Dew, Coke and Pepsi.
— All brands of beer are popular.
— Cigarette pack wrappers and lighters were found almost every day.
Some of these items, like footwear and toys, can simply be blamed on typical beach distractions and general unawareness. Items get left behind. It’s unfortunate, but people forget personal belongings and oftentimes also leave behind trash. I am still smarting over those nice Oakley sunglasses I left on the beach 10 years ago. However, the situation with the balloons is an issue. Most of the balloons stem from real estate open houses (easy to track because the company names appeared on many), while some also come from birthday parties and other special events. This is easily avoidable and deserves some attention. I don’t suspect anyone is deliberately letting these balloons intentionally fly away, but some consideration needs to be paid to what’s happening here.
The fact is a lot of time, effort and money are spent on complicated environmental initiatives these days in our local watershed. I happen to think funds to these measures is worthwhile. Many disagree, but that’s a matter for another day. In this case, the average citizen does not need to know a lot about securing conservation easements, stormwater runoff reductions, ways to improve water quality and energy efficiency. These are all sensible green measures, but there is nothing more fundamental than simply disposing of waste properly. We all need to be responsible community stewards and the Lockhart/McBride beach project shows there’s room for better judgment.