Clearing Vineyard Coasts: Time for Beach Cleanups

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More opportunities to keep our shorelines pristine.

What’s the first thing a person from the Vineyard might highlight when talking to someone who’s never experienced the place? You’d be hard-pressed to find a more quintessential feature than the Island’s pristine beaches. Because beaches are such a central element to life on Martha’s Vineyard, the Vineyard Conservation Society (VCS) is spearheading a new initiative to ensure that the coasts stay clear.

“The idea of beach cleanups has changed so much from when we started doing them 15 years ago,” says Signe Benjamin, director of membership and resource development for VCS. Benjamin spoke with Bluedot Living about the conservation society’s plan to work with a number of community partners to establish monthly all-Island beach cleanups. She says the whole community is rallying around the idea, including libraries, local transfer stations, and public and private volunteers. 

The ultimate goal is to give Islanders a loose structure, along with the necessary tools, for going out each month and picking up beach trash at one beach in each town: six beaches a month. Benjamin says the motivation and drive is already there, but sometimes it helps to have an organizing force like VCS to guide the way. “Let’s get to a point with Island libraries where they are promoting the monthly cleanups in each of their towns, and everyone gets the information on which beach is getting cleaned that month,” Benjamin says. 

With Earth Day coming up, Benjamin says it’s the perfect time to unveil the new plan and get the ball rolling. For 30 years, VCS has hosted a massive, annual beach cleanup and after-party to commemorate Earth Day, but this upcoming occasion is going to be on a different scale. “We’ve historically held the after-party at the Sailing Camp, but this year we are collaborating with all the conservation organizations on the Island to come together at the Museum,” Benjamin explains. Around 16 organizations will be at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum to help raise awareness of the challenges our environment faces, and to galvanize attendees to continue taking action.

“[Laurisa Rich is] always thinking about what we can do with the actual trash. How can we turn it into something useful, and also how can we utilize the data that we get from taking inventory of what we find?”

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–Signe Benjamin, Vineyard Conservation Society

Benjamin credits Luanne Johnson of BiodiversityWorks with the idea of bringing everyone together, and says the event at the Museum will be a good opportunity to showcase the level of concern within the population. “There will be activities, posters, and pamphlets — lots of good information, and a little area off to the side for short presentations and films,” Benjamin says. According to Benjamin, longtime ubiquitous local volunteer Laurisa Rich has been instrumental in coming up with creative ideas to get people excited about picking up along our coastline. “She’s always thinking about what we can do with the actual trash. How can we turn it into something useful, and also how can we utilize the data that we get from taking inventory of what we find?” 

Rich says that the level of collaboration among all the independent entities continues to impress her. Working together, they’ve developed a system wherein volunteers will place VCS stickers on their bags of beach trash, and the dumps will accept them for free. “It seems like all the refuse entities on the Island are agreeing to accept stickered trash on personal bags,” she says. “It will be an honors system — trusting that people haven’t mingled their own household trash into the beach trash they collected.” 

Rich, VCS, and all who are participating in this mission hope that monthly cleanup across the entire Island will mitigate the downstream effects of pollution on our beaches. “We hope that we can get the big pieces soon enough so they don’t disintegrate and turn into microplastics — that’s one of the really pernicious things about this kind of litter — it only gets harder to clean up. It floats back out into the ocean or gets buried in the sand,” Rich says. “Once it gets too small to harm the macrofauna, the microfauna is consuming it. We just want to stop that awful cycle.”

For more info on Earth Day events, visit vineyardconservation.org.

All the Island libraries will be promoting the cleanups, as well as the VCS website and Enewsletters.

More Beach cleanups

A number of programs already take to the beaches on a regular basis to pick up litter, including the Head Start program, the Red House Peer Recovery Support Center of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, and the Protect Your Environment Club at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. According to the Martha’s Vineyard Times, in the last week of March, Mansfield-based nonprofit Keep Massachusetts Beautiful sent around 30 volunteers to the first ever “Great Martha’s Vineyard Cleanup,” and collected dozens of bags of trash. At that same time, a group of staff from The Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, along with volunteers from Cornell University, began fieldwork to remove fishing gear from Cuttyhunk’s shorelines. 

Trash hunters will hit the beaches from 10 am to noon on Saturday, April 22. After bags are filled, the after-party event at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum will run from noon to 4 pm. The monthly beach cleanups will begin this spring. Visit vineyardconservation.org for information on conservation events, education on local climate change impacts, and ways to volunteer or support VCS.

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Lucas Thors
Lucas Thors
Lucas Thors is an associate editor for Bluedot Living and program director for the Bluedot Institute. He lives on Martha's Vineyard with his English springer spaniel, Arlo, and enjoys writing about environmental initiatives in his community.
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