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Volunteers pick up and record beach trash
Volunteers pick up and record beach trash. Photo courtesy Clean Ocean Action

Clean Ocean Action's Beach Sweep

In 1984, New Jersey was known as the ocean-dumping capital of the nation. There were eight ocean dumpsites off the New Jersey/New York coastline, and pollution was ruining the state's beaches. Today, the pollution problem remains an ongoing educational challenge. It originates from many diverse sources, such as runoff from urban, suburban, or agricultural areas, street litter, automotive drippings, and animal wastes. The collective impact of these sources close more beaches, taint more shellfish beds, and pollute inshore waters more than any single pollution source. Since 1985, the Beach Sweep has been one of Clean Ocean Action's tools for educating the public about pollution. New Jersey beaches are "swept" along the entire coast: from Raritan Bay, through Sandy Hook, down to Cape May Point, and along the Delaware Bay.

Participants not only remove the unsightly debris from beaches and waterways, they also record what they pick up, and the data is used to track pollution trends, educate the public, and help find solutions to the pollution problem. All the information is submitted to the Center for Marine Conservation in Washington, D.C., as part of the worldwide effort against ocean pollution.

Clean Ocean Action's Beach Sweeps is one of the longest running cleanups in the world. The cleanup first started in 1985 at Sandy Hook with 75 volunteers. The volunteers were given different color T-shirts, each color designating a different type of item the volunteer was to collect. The T-shirts represented the major categories of beach trash: plastic, glass, metal, wood, and styrofoam.

Clean Ocean Action developed a video called "Clean Beach...Naturally" to further educate the public about the goals of beach cleanups and the negative impact that marine debris has on marine life and to encourage further participation in the sweeps.

To reduce one source of marine debris, Clean Ocean Action developed a storm drain stenciling program in 1988 to educate the public about storm water run-off and serve as a reminder to communities that whatever goes into street and storm drains affects animals and plan life of streams, rivers, lakes, back bays and oceans. The program was extended to a week-long event in 1993 and became a bi-annual event, like the Beach Sweeps, in 1999.

The Beach Sweeps went statewide in the spring of 1991 as the cleanup included Atlantic and Cape May Counties. That same year a computer program was developed to analyze the data collected during the cleanup. With the opening of the South Jersey office in 1993, the Beach Sweeps went statewide for both the spring and fall cleanups, and locations along the Delaware Bay were added. In that year, over 2,500 volunteers hit the beach, removing over 130,000 pieces of debris from New Jersey beaches.

In 1994, Clean Ocean Action produced its first report on beach debris in New Jersey. The report was presented at the first international Coastal Cleanup conference in Washington, D.C. that same year.

By 1996, the Beach Sweeps had moved inland to include rivers, lakes, and streams. In 1997, Clean Ocean Action went online with their web site, which includes extensive information about marine debris collected during the Beach Sweeps.

In 1999, nearly 5,000 volunteered at 92 locations in the state. Since 1985, over 30,600 volunteers have participated in the Beach Sweeps, resulting in 100,200 volunteer hours for the environment. Their efforts have resulted in millions of pieces of debris removed from New Jersey's beaches. A value for this cleanup effort has been estimated at over one billion dollars.

Project documentation comprises a report, a one-page synopsis, a press release and a video.

Originally submitted by: Frank Pallone, Jr., Representative (6th District).



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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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