2013-12-05 / News

Cleanup at Hull Cove

By Ken Shane

Clean Ocean Access has been picking up trash at Hull Cove in December since 2006, but this is the first time islander Michael Brown will aid in the holiday cleanup when his company sponsors its second transect of the season.

In coordination with the cleanup, Brown’s company, Packaging 2.0, will sponsor a beach transect on Saturday. The first one took place in June. Along with cleaning the beach, the transect allows the material collected to be quantified in a detailed manner using a protocol approved by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“You get a picture of what’s there from season to season and year to year,” Brown said. “You can quantify it. It’s citizen science.”

According to Brown, the goal of the transect is prevention. After determining what items are turning up on a regular basis, the findings can be used to figure out where the items are coming from. The results can also be useful in creating better designs for products.

For the Hull Cove transect, the beach will be divided into quadrants. Sand will be collected, weighed and measured to reveal microplastics that wouldn’t normally be seen in the cleanup. The findings will be noted on a form that will be provided to the Plastic Beach Project, a website developed by the 5 Gyres environmental organization. The results are then shared to the scientific community by way of NOAA’s website on marine debris.

Scientists can then access the data to write scientific papers, while manufacturers can use the information for more environmentally friendly product design. Brown is particularly interested in the latter because his company makes packaging from 100 percent recycled plastics.

Brown says most of the trash at Hull Cove is coming from the water.

“It’s true marine debris,” Brown said. “It’s beat up and degraded. I think it’s stuff that’s moving in and out of the bay.”

Clean Ocean Access will also be at Hull Cove Saturday. The group was formed in 2006 and its mission is to take action today so future generations can enjoy ocean activities. Its three main programs are tied to the name: the organization works for clean coastlines, water quality, and public access.

“The idea is that you want to be able to get to the beach, and when you get there, you want the beach to be clean,” said Dave McLaughlin, director of Clean Ocean Access. “When you go in the water, you want the water to be safe.”

According to McLaughlin, the cleanup is important because Hull Cove is essentially a catch in terms of the tidal influences of Narragansett Bay and its location in relation to the south-facing Atlantic Ocean. As a result, the characteristics of the trash accumulation at Hull Cove are exhibited at few other places along the coastline. While the annual cleanup effort finds some new trash that has been left behind by beachgoers, the majority of the trash comes from the ocean.

“Where the trash comes from is anyone’s guess,” McLaughlin said. “It could be from offshore dumping from years ago, or it could just be trash from other locations. Each piece of trash tells its own story. You really have to look at it to get a general idea of where it’s coming from.”

McLaughlin said the most commonly found trash at Hull Cove is fishing gear and plastics. Random pieces of wood, often painted with nails inserted, are also found. Because there are dangers posed to small animals by the paint chips and to human feet by the nails, the wood is removed.

McLaughlin doesn’t expect the proposed boardwalk at Hull Cove to have much of an impact on the amount of debris on the beach. The new trail would provide better public access to the beach, he says, and although more people will most likely mean more pollution, he doesn’t see it being much of a problem.

“Hull Cove is such a beautiful part of the coastline,” McLaughlin said. “I don’t really think the people who go there are going to be leaving behind their food wrappers and red straws.”

For the last two years, the Hull Cove cleanup has attracted 50 to 100 volunteers. McLaughlin expects at least 50 people on Saturday. The cleanup begins at noon. Anyone wishing to volunteer should wear sturdy shoes or boots. Because parking is limited at the Hull Cove right-of-way, McLaughlin said people can park at Mackerel Cove and they will be shuttled over. Collection bags and refreshments will be provided.

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