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CZ-Tip - Volunteer to Help Protect the Coast

Find ways to get to, protect, and enjoy the coast with tips from the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM).
beach cleanup volunteers

One of the best ways to bond with the great outdoors is to help protect it. So why not take a step further than a local hike and take action? You can volunteer to maintain trails at a local land trust, lead an outdoor exploration program at a nature center, share your knowledge as a docent for park visitor services, clean up trash and other marine debris along the shores, and so much more! See the listings below for a wide variety of volunteer opportunities that focus on the Massachusetts coast.

And for options that focus on collecting scientific data, see CZ-Tip: Sign Up for Coastal Citizen Science.

Be a Land or Water Steward

Help manage, protect, and restore conservation areas, waterways, and the environmental and public services they provide. To get started, check out this list of organizations that encourage volunteers (or contact your local Conservation Commission, land trust, or watershed association to discover additional opportunities).

  • Barnstable Land Trust (BLT) - Help maintain and care for the land and trails on over 120 properties protected by BLT through a variety of volunteer opportunities, such as caretaking an individual property or joining a group to maintain trails, remove invasive plants, and pick up litter.
  • Boston Harbor Islands - Work alongside park rangers to beautify and restore the historic and natural landscapes of the Boston Harbor Islands National and State Park, including maintaining island trails and important habitat areas through the Boston Harbor Islands Stewardship program or participating in a group service day. 
  • Buzzards Bay Coalition - Pick up litter, cut back invasive plants, maintain trails, and lend a hand to repair and maintain signage, fences, and buildings at Buzzard Bay Coalition reserves in Acushnet, Fairhaven, Mattapoisett, and Wareham through the Coalition’s volunteer program.
  • Cape Cod National Seashore - Adopt-a-Trail through Friends of the Cape Cod National Seashore to help maintain trails, report trail conditions, spruce up the Seashore’s native plant garden at the Salt Pond Visitor Center, and more.
  • Charles River Watershed Association - Monitor and record data on river ecosystem health, sample benthic macroinvertebrates and conduct habitat assessments, track cyanobacteria blooms, count migrating herring, remove invasive plants, participate in an Earth Day cleanup, and take photos of nature, wildlife, and people enjoying the Charles River through the association’s volunteer opportunities program.
  • Harwich Conservation Trust (HCT) - Be an HCT volunteer to maintain trails, lead guided walks, enhance wildlife habitat, monitor bird nest boxes, assist in the office, work on citizen-science projects, and engage in many other unique and meaningful projects.
  • Ipswich River Watershed Association - Commit your time to a Stream Team within the Ipswich River Watershed (Reading/North Reading, Middleton, Topsfield, and Ipswich) and take on projects that protect the Ipswich River and surrounding areas.
  • Manchester Coastal Stream Team - For another North Shore option, check out the Manchester Coastal Stream Team, which works on water quality projects, preservation of coastal habitats, and engagement and education of the public.
  • Mystic River Watershed Association - Choose an individual or corporate community service opportunity to remove invasive water chestnut from the Mystic River and Oriental bittersweet from waterfront parks.
  • North and South Rivers Watershed Association (NSRWA) - Participate in the Watershed Stewardship Certificate program and collaborate with the NSRWA to create and complete a meaningful service project that will benefit the environment, community, and your educational/professional future.
  • Salem Sound Coastwatch - Be a beachkeeper at a Salem Sound beach to: conduct regular coastal clean-ups; document storm damage; visually monitor for sources of pollution, signs of erosion, and evidence of invasive species; collect samples from stormwater outfall pipes and coastal streams for testing; and identify other problems and issues affecting the beach.
  • Sheriff Meadows Foundation of Martha’s Vineyard - Work with the property management team to: maintain walking trails and create new ones; mow, trim, and provide routine maintenance activities; plant native vegetation and control invasive species; and become involved in other sanctuary restoration projects at the many protected lands and trails  around the island.

Share Your Knowledge

Many organizations and associations offer opportunities to help explain the natural world to the public. Here are a few noteworthy listings:

  • Buzzards Bay Adventures - Volunteer for the Buzzards Bay Coalition by leading outdoor exploration programs (showing people how to dig for quahogs, identify local birds, and explore local rivers), assisting with weekly school day programs, or helping out at the New Bedford or Westport learning centers.
  • Boston Harbor Islands Interpreter - Welcome and educate visitors, conduct tours, assist rangers, and help out on boats traveling to and from the islands through the Visitor Services program.
  • Cape Cod National Seashore - Volunteer with the National Park Service at the Seashore’s visitor centers or in the field and educate people on seals, shorebirds, the history of the Old Harbor Lifesaving Station, and the natural resources of the salt ponds, Province Lands, and more.
  • Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge Courtesy Patrol - Sign up for a year-round opportunity to be Courtesy Patrol for Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge, a Trustees of Reservations property on Nantucket, and provide visitors with information about the history, landscape architecture, gardening/farming, and ecology of the area. For more ways to volunteer on the many Trustees properties, see their Upcoming Volunteer Opportunities page.
  • Mass Audubon Sanctuary Education and Visitor Services - Become an Education Volunteer, Nature Center Docent, or Visitor Services Assistant at many of the Mass Audubon Sanctuaries across the state. Assist teacher naturalists and program leaders with a variety of school programs (including leading or assisting student groups and providing hands-on activities), or work in exhibit halls and reception areas to welcome and guide guests and help facilitate learning. See the Mass Audubon volunteer opportunities page and search for keywords (such as education, docent, or visitor services) to find relevant search results, or refine your search by selecting a desired sanctuary, location, area of interest, or other filter.
  • New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park and New Bedford Whaling Museum Visitor Services - Volunteer with New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park to help preserve, protect, and interpret the history of whaling and related social, economic, and environmental themes. Or join the training program/volunteer services of the New Bedford Whaling Museum to participate as a docent, a goodwill ambassador, or in the museum’s library or archives.

Clean Up Marine Debris

One way to get up close and personal through hands-on volunteering is to help remove marine debris—including plastics, lost fishing gear, and trash of all kinds—that clogs our oceans, litters our shores, and entangles, poisons, and chokes sea life. Learn more about marine debris, its impact, and solutions at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program page, and volunteer through these cleanup events and initiatives to help make a difference:

  • COASTSWEEP - Participate in a COASTSWEEP cleanup to collect, categorize, and tally marine debris found on the shores. Sponsored by CZM as part of the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, these annual events are typically held September through October. Organize a cleanup yourself or volunteer at an existing cleanup event to help improve the health and beauty of the coast and ocean, while contributing data that helps advance solutions for reducing trash in our seas.
  • Charles River Cleanup - Join over 3,000 volunteers as they head out each year to pick up litter (and remove invasive species and assist with park maintenance) along the 80 miles of the Charles River. The annual Earth Day Charles River Cleanup, part of the American Rivers’ National River Cleanup, supports a cleaner, healthier, and more beautiful Charles River, while helping to prevent debris from flowing to the ocean.
  • Neighborhood Cleanups - Become a member of the Massachusetts Litter Cleanup Crew, a Keep Massachusetts Beautiful initiative, to incorporate litter cleanups into daily walks and help reduce the trash that makes its way to waterbodies. As part of the crew, you will receive a Massachusetts Litter Cleanup Crew kit that properly adorns you with a litter grabber tool, facemask, safety t-shirt, reusable trash bag, and gloves. Volunteers can also organize litter cleanups, park maintenance projects, tree planting, and other community service events as part of the Great Massachusetts Cleanup.

Additional Resources

For more information about what you can do to help protect coastal and ocean resources, see related CZ-Tips, including:

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