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50 Ways to Protect the Massachusetts Coast for 50 Years of Earth Day

Find Earth-friendly tips from the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM).
A photo of a person doing a beach cleanup.

April 22, 2020, marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which began in 1970 as a national day to focus on the natural world. This year, the COVID-19 outbreak is a strong reminder that individual actions make a huge collective difference. So to celebrate 50 years of Earth Day, the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM) presents 50 ways that you can help protect the Massachusetts coast.

50 Ways...

  1. Participate in COASTSWEEP this fall - COASTSWEEP is the statewide beach cleanup sponsored by CZM as part of Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup. Each fall, volunteers from around the world collect marine debris—trash, fishing line, and any other human-made items—and categorize and tally what they find. This information is then used to help determine the sources of marine debris and find solutions to this problem. So if you can’t participate in your favorite Earth Day cleanup this year, see the COASTSWEEP website for how to volunteer for a cleanup starting in August. Or even better, sign up now to organize your own cleanup this fall!
  2. Take care of your trash - Litter on land makes its way to Massachusetts beaches when it is washed to the nearest river, stream, or storm drain and then out to sea. Proper trash disposal directly helps to keep our coast clean. See CZM’s More on Marine Debris for details.
  3. Keep your butts off the beach - Year in and year out, cigarette butts are by far the most commonly collected type of marine debris. Most have been tossed on the street and washed into a storm drain. Check out About COASTSWEEP for some stats, and incentive to make the extra effort to keep your butts off the street and off the beach.
  4. Refocus your daily routine to reduce, reuse, and recycle - Have you ever thought about how much trash you produce in a single day, and how you can reduce your personal impact? Find some great tips in COASTSWEEP: Altering the Average Day to Reduce Ocean Litter, a blog post from a COASTSWEEP intern on how he spent a day doing just that.
  5. Repurpose with the purpose of reducing marine debris - Repurposing gives items that would otherwise be thrown away or recycled a useful new life. From transforming a glass jar into a terrarium to making decorative pillows with plastic-bag stuffing, see CZ-Tip - Repurposing with a Purpose for some great ideas on turning trash into treasure.
  6. Recycle smart - Can you recycle a pizza box? What about AAA batteries? Plastic wrap? Knowing what to put in your curbside recycling box can be confusing—and adding the wrong things actually does more harm than good. (For instance, plastic bags get wrapped in the gears of recycling equipment.) To provide an easy way to end the confusion, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) initiated Recycle Smart. Just type the name of an item into this online guide to find out how to properly recycle it.
  7. Clean the “green” way - Commercial cleaning products can contain ingredients that impact the coast—such as phosphates that cause excess algae growth (which robs ocean water of oxygen) or chemicals that are toxic to marine life. See CZ-Tip - Get Your Home Squeaky Green-Clean for environmentally friendly cleaning options that can also save you money and protect your health.
  8. Manage household hazardous products safely - Paints, used oil, fluorescent bulbs, and other common household products can contain toxic chemicals that can harm your health and the environment. For information on how to safely handle, dispose of, and recycle these materials, see MassDEP’s Safely Manage Hazardous Household Products page.
  9. Properly dispose of prescription drugs - While we take them for our health, prescription drugs can negatively impact plants and animals when they make their way to the marine environment—especially when old drugs are dumped into the toilet or down the drain. MassDEP has specific tips on how to Safely Dispose of Prescription Drugs.
  10. Filter pollution with plants - Stormwater (rain and snow melt that runs over the ground, picking up sediments and other pollutants along the way) can significantly impact coastal waters. But planting vegetated buffers—strips of shrubs, perennials, or other plants—is a great way to reduce stormwater impacts. These buffers effectively slow surface runoff, capture stormwater, and filter contaminants. Learn more with CZ-Tip - Keep Waterways Clean by Filtering Pollutants with Plants.
  11. Use the power of plants to control coastal erosion - With roots that bind soils and leaves that break the impact of rain or wave splash, plants can protect your property from coastal erosion. See CZ-Tip - Dune Building with Beachgrass for information on using this native grass to help build and maintain dunes, and StormSmart Properties Fact Sheet 3: Planting Vegetation to Reduce Erosion and Storm Damage for the benefits of using plants to combat erosion, along with specific design considerations to ensure project success.
  12. Go native with your landscaping - Native plants (i.e., those that originally grew in this area) are adapted to local conditions and consequently require less maintenance, watering, fertilizer, and pest control than introduced species. So choose native species when creating your planting plans. See Coastal Landscaping in Massachusetts - Plant Highlights and Images for photos and descriptions of a wide range of native plants to choose from (many of which are suitable for inland sites too).
  13. Protect shorebirds while walking the beach - Foot traffic in and around nesting areas can significantly impact the reproductive success of Massachusetts shorebirds, many of which are threatened or endangered species. From mid-April though summer, be on the lookout for nests and baby birds at the beach. For specific tips—from staying out of wildlife protection areas to leashing your pets—see “What Beachgoers Can Do to Protect Shorebirds” in CZ-Tip - Birdwatching on the Coast.
  14. Keep birds safe when driving off road - Shorebirds often hide in tire tracks, making them vulnerable to off-road vehicles at the beach. So when driving at the shore, be sure to stay outside of delineated shorebird habitat (which is designated in May and marked by postings or fencing). See “What Beach Drivers Can Do to Protect Shorebirds” in CZ-Tip - Birdwatching on the Coast for more.
  15. Be a beach-friendly dog owner - Through no fault of their own, dogs can cause some serious seashore impacts. But with some common sense, a leash, and a baggie, you can be a beach-friendly dog owner. From respecting leash laws to scooping the poop, CZ-Tip - Bring Your Dog to the Beach the Coast-Friendly Way covers how to responsibly share the coast with your canine.
  16. Don’t dump down storm drains - Never throw trash, pour used oil, or dump anything else into a storm drain. These drainage systems ultimately release water (and the contaminants it carries) into rivers, streams, and out to sea. The “Clean Coastal Waters” section in CZ-Tip - Be a Coast-Conscious Kid! provides additional information, including how to help stencil storm drains to remind other people not to dump.
  17. Wash your car wisely - Instead of washing your car at home where chemical detergents, oils, and greases can contaminate runoff, take it to a commercial car wash. Commercial car washes collect wash water for recycling and treatment, and use significantly less water (35-50 gallons compared to 80-140 gallons at home). If you do wash your car at home, park on a lawn or gravel area so water can be absorbed and filtered into the ground, and use phosphate-free soaps (or spot-clean with an eco-friendly cleaner and rag) to help reduce polluted runoff. See the Massachusetts Clean Water Toolkit’s Car Washing page for details.
  18. Save water - Water conservation helps maintain water levels in rivers and streams, which is essential for protecting habitats as well as the quality of the water that runs to the sea. CZ-Tip - Save Water gives links to extensive information on how to conserve water in your home, yard, and business.
  19. Install a rain barrel - A rain barrel is a container placed under a downspout to collect rain water from the roof. This recycled and free source of water can be used on perennial beds and lawns, rather than using tap water. See MassDEP’s rain barrel guide for instructions on making, buying, and installing a rain barrel, along with other water conservation tips.
  20. Save energy - Burning fossil fuels such as oil and coal releases carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping "greenhouse gases"—a key factor in climate change. Climate change impacts include increasing global temperatures, melting ice caps and sea level rise, and increased frequency and severity of storms—all of which exacerbate coastal erosion and storm damage. You can do your part to combat climate change by saving energy. See the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources Energy Efficiency for Your Home website for links to services and incentives to manage energy use.
  21. Take public transportation (by boat!) - Public transportation is a great way to reduce your fossil fuel consumption to help protect the planet—and the Bay State offers many water-based public transportation options. See CZ-Tip - Public Transportation by Boat for details on taking a ferry to work or to a weekend getaway.
  22. Recycle fishing line - Discarded fishing line can entangle marine animals and get wrapped around boat propellers. Always properly dispose of used fishing line, or even better, find out how to recycle it in the “Marine Debris” section of CZ-Tip - Simple Steps to Clean Boating in Massachusetts.
  23. Stop the spread of marine invasive species - Invasive species are animals, plants, and other organisms (such as bacteria) that are introduced to new locations by human activity and can cause harm to the environment, economy, or public health. From properly disposing of used bait to never releasing aquarium pets to the wild—find ways to protect the Massachusetts coast from these intruders in CZ-Tip - Learn to Spot, and Deal with, the Aliens in Our Midst.
  24. Help identify marine invaders - The Marine Invader Monitoring and Information Collaborative (MIMIC) brings together volunteers and scientists to monitor for marine invasive species along the New England coast. See CZM’s MIMIC page for information on how to get your environmental group involved. Also, if you see a marine invasive species (such as an Asian Shore Crab or a European Oyster), please take a photo and add it to the iNaturalist MIMIC project page. Not sure if it’s invasive? Check out these Marine Invasive Species Identification Cards to find out.
  25. Stop the spread of invasive plants - Invasive plants can outcompete native species and disrupt coastal ecosystems. To help prevent their spread, never plant invasives in your yard, and don’t use them to decorate (which can spread their seeds). For details, see the MassWildlife Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program’s Invasive Plants page.
  26. Donate to rare species conservation - The North Atlantic Right Whale, Roseate Tern, and Eastern Spadefoot are some of the many Massachusetts coastal animals that are endangered or threatened. The Natural Heritage & Endangered Species Program’s support endangered species conservation page gives information on how you can help by donating to their protection.
  27. Report rare species sightings - You can also help track the success of Massachusetts conservation efforts by reporting rare species when you find them. See report rare species for instructions on providing information to the state’s database of rare species records.
  28. Protect sea turtles right here in the Bay State - Did you know that during the summer and fall, four species of endangered or threatened sea turtles are commonly found in Massachusetts waters (Green, Kemp's Ridley, Leatherback, and Loggerhead)? CZ-Tip - Sharing Coastal Waters with Sea Turtles gives details on how to protect sea turtles when you boat, fish, and stash your trash.
  29. Help save stranded and entangled turtles - There are two sea turtle stranding seasons in Massachusetts: 1) summer and fall when turtles are susceptible to entanglements and boat collisions, and 2) late fall and winter when turtles go into shock from dropping water temperatures. See CZ-Tip - Sharing Coastal Waters with Sea Turtles for information on what to do if you find a sea turtle in trouble, and how to report it.
  30. Report lost fishing gear - Lost fishing gear washed up on the beach can often be reused. If you find lobster pots, buoys, or other gear with identification numbers on it, note the numbers and report them to the Massachusetts Environmental Police dispatcher at (617) 626-1650. (Fishing gear with no identification number that is clearly damaged beyond use may be disposed of or recycled.) Learn more with CZ-Tip - Learn About Lobsters, Lost Gear, and Local Efforts to Prevent Marine Debris.
  31. Create wildlife habitat - Trees, shrubs, groundcovers, and grasses—particularly native species—provide shelter, nesting areas, and food for wildlife. With a little planning, you can use native plants to create wildlife habitat when you landscape your coastal property. Learn more with Benefits of Coastal Landscaping. (These tips also work in inland areas, so give them a try wherever you live!)
  32. Leave wildlife wild - When beachcombing, please leave anything alive where you found it, including sand dollars, sea stars, shellfish, and crabs. Also, do not step on or collect wildflowers or other vegetation—plants prevent erosion and provide habitat and food for wildlife. Finally, not all sea creatures on land are in trouble. Seals, for instance, often look stranded when they haul themselves on land to rest. Give them the space they need by keeping at least 150 feet away. For more, including how to report a beached whale or other truly stranded animal, see CZ-Tip - 10 Ways to Enjoy and Protect Massachusetts Beaches.
  33. Take care of tide pools - As the tide recedes, the tide pools that form in isolated low spots provide habitat for many marine plants and animals. Exploring tide pools is an excellent, hands-on way to learn about marine life—but please handle these creatures with care. For example, when you turn over a rock to check for crabs, put it back the way you found it to shelter the animals that live there. For more on “tide pool etiquette” (along with information on where to find some of the best tide pools in Massachusetts), see CZ-Tip - Learn What Lurks in a Massachusetts Tide Pool.
  34. Inspire coast-friendly kids - Now is the perfect time to engage the next generation in protecting the coast. Find abundant kid-friendly, online information on keeping coastal waters clean, reducing ocean trash, protecting coastal habitats, and more in CZ-Tip - Be a Coast-Conscious Kid.
  35. Keep off the dunes - Dunes protect landward areas from storm waves, and beach grass and other vegetation help build and stabilize dunes. Though hardy, dune plants are extremely vulnerable to trampling. To protect this nature-based form of storm-damage protection, never walk on or over a dune. Learn more with 10 Ways to Enjoy and Protect Massachusetts Beaches.
  36. Use StormSmart techniques to protect coastal property - CZM’s StormSmart Properties fact sheets give coastal property owners information on a range of measures that can effectively reduce erosion and storm damage while minimizing impacts to shoreline systems. From artificial dunes to sand fencing, find links to detailed “how to” instructions in the StormSmart Properties Fact Sheet Index.
  37. Build better boardwalks - Proper design of walkways, stairways, and other beach-access structures helps to prevent coastal erosion. For example, elevating walkways allows sunlight to reach plants underneath, stimulating the growth of root systems that stabilize the sand. Check out CZ-Tip - Basics of Building Beach Access Structures that Protect Dunes and Banks for details on proper design and installation.
  38. Buy locally grown - The ingredients for an average U.S. meal travel 1,300 miles from farm to market—and that off-season produce leaves some big carbon footprints. In addition to reducing fossil fuel emissions from shipping, eating both locally and seasonally has many benefits. Farmers who sell directly to local consumers can focus on freshness, nutrition, and taste instead of the crop shelf life. Eating locally is also good for local economies and helps preserve farmland as open space. For details on how and where to buy locally grown produce, see Massachusetts Grown… and Fresher.
  39. And don’t forget local seafood - Local is the key word—the shorter the distance from the sea, the fresher the fish (and the less petroleum used in transport). See the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries Find a Seafood Retail Location for a list of retailers providing local and domestic seafood. Also, see CZ-Tip - Recipes from Coastal New England for recipes featuring local catch, along with additional information on buying local seafood, produce, and even wine and beer.
  40. Recycle products containing mercury - Mercury, which is toxic to people and wildlife, can enter the environment when products containing this natural heavy metal are broken or disposed of improperly. Mercury accumulates in fish such as tuna, which affects ocean food webs and harms human health. Breathing mercury fumes or touching spilled mercury is also a human health hazard. However, many mercury-containing products (including fluorescent light bulbs, thermometers, button cell batteries, and electronics) can be recycled. See MassDEP’s Recycle Fluorescent Light Bulbs & Other Mercury Products website for drop-off locations and tips on cleaning up spilled mercury.
  41. Practice clean boating - Boating has the potential to impact the marine environment. Improper fueling, boat cleaning detergents, and bottom paints can pollute the water. Boating in sensitive and shallow areas can also harm delicate habitats if not done with care. With minimal effort and expense, however, boaters can help keep coastal waters clean and healthy—a key ingredient for great boating. For details, see CZ-Tip - Simple Steps to Clean Boating in Massachusetts.
  42. Keep it “clean” and “green” when boat winterizing - In Massachusetts, boats are usually removed from the water for winter storage and must be properly prepared to protect parts from weather and lack of use. This winterizing process can impact the environment—oil may spill during an oil change, fuel can degrade if not stabilized, and boat sewage can pollute coastal waters if not disposed of properly. CZ-Tip - Boat Winterizing—Keep It Green gives information on winterizing your boat in an environmentally conscientious manner.
  43. Reduce oil and gas impacts from boating - Small drips of oil and gas add up—significantly impacting coastal water quality. When boating, you have many options to reduce these impacts. For example, use an oil-absorbent cloth to catch drips when fueling. Also, buy more fuel-efficient engines, find the sweet-spot for smooth “sailing,” and use the right propeller to save fuel. Finally, place an oil-absorbent pad/sock (bilge sock) in your bilge to prevent pollution when it is pumped. See CZ-Tip - Simple Steps to Clean Boating in Massachusetts for more ways to reduce fuel and oil impacts.
  44. Properly dispose of boat sewage - Boat sewage (whether it is treated or not) can harm water quality and public health. All coastal waters in Massachusetts are No Discharge Zones for boat sewage, and pumpout facilities (including pump-out boats that can come directly to you) are conveniently located along the entire coast to help boaters dispose of this waste. See Boating Basics/No Discharge of Boat Sewage for more on pumping out to protect coastal water quality.
  45. Collect data on salt marsh health - Salt marshes provide habitat to many plants, fish, shellfish, birds, and mammals. They also protect shorelines from storm damage by breaking up waves, and they protect water quality by filtering pollutants. Volunteer groups play an important role in monitoring the health of salt marsh in Massachusetts. CZM’s Volunteer's Handbook for Monitoring New England Salt Marshes can help local groups collect and record data on salt marsh health in a consistent and scientifically sound manner.
  46. Get out there and share your love for the coast - We protect what we love, so don’t forget to enjoy the Massachusetts coast as much as you can (but in these days of COVID-19, be sure to keep an adequate and safe distance from others). CZ-Tip - Explore the Coastal Outdoors provides details on hundreds of public coastal access sites in the Bay State, along with information on hiking, camping, fishing, boating, and more. CZ-Tip - Get to the Shore! focuses on coastal access in the Commonwealth, including public rights and responsibilities, public access sites, and environmental protection issues. And when you choose to stay indoors, check out: CZ-Tip - Coastal Reading List 101 to find books that have the Massachusetts coast as a main character, CZ-Tip - Discover Fascinating Features, Forms, and Even Fossils at the Beach for interesting details on how beaches form and the many things that can be found there, and CZ-Tip - Seven Public Places Steeped in History in Coastal Massachusetts to learn about coastal historical sites from home.
  47. Focus your career on the coast - From coastal geologist, to marine mammal specialist, to coastal manager—many careers feature the coast and ocean. If you are ready for a job or internship that that connects your passion with a paycheck, check out CZ-Tip - Internship/Job-Search Resources: Get into the Blue.
  48. Learn at home - Online education is more important than ever during the COVID-19 outbreak. To help provide access to home-based learning resources, CZM compiled Online Ocean Education Resources for the COVID-19 School Closures, a collection of ocean and coastal education materials including online curricula, games, quizzes, and cyber explorations—many of which have been developed or updated for the COVID-19 school closures. Massachusetts Coastal and Ocean Education Guide for K-12 Teachers provides an index of links to additional resources, including curricula, field trips, films and videos, and teacher education and professional development to help you learn about the coast and share that knowledge.
  49. Keep informed - CZM can help you stay informed on the major issues of the Massachusetts coast. Sign up for CZ-Mail, CZM’s monthly electronic newsletter, or follow CZM on Twitter for the latest information on CZM projects, job and grant postings, calendar items, and more. Finally, check out the CZM Publications page for the complete list of CZM brochures and fact sheets, guidance documents, technical reports, maps, and other publications.
  50. Keep finding ways to get to, protect, and enjoy the Commonwealth's coast—Earth Day and every day! - In case 49 options for individual actions to protect the Massachusetts coast are not enough, check out the full CZ-Tips Index for links to dozens of CZM web pages on coastal protection and recreation. And visit the CZM Site Map for all the CZM content available to explore online. Happy Earth Day 2020!
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