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About COASTSWEEP

Learn about the statewide annual beach cleanup organized by the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management (CZM).

Barcaloungers, toilet bowls, rubber boots, pieces of fishing net, truck tires, industrial tubing, milk crates, vinyl siding, and thousands and thousands of cigarette butts are but some of the items found during Massachusetts COASTSWEEP cleanups.

COASTSWEEP is part of an annual event to raise awareness and clean beaches from Boston to Bimini. The International Coastal Cleanup organized by Ocean Conservancy brings hundreds of thousands of volunteers to beaches, lakes, and streams worldwide to remove marine debris (i.e., trash, fishing line, and any other human-made items) and collect data on what is found to help analyze and address this problem.

For a full list of information on the COASTSWEEP website, see Overview and Index.

Background

Since 1987, volunteers in Massachusetts have been pitching in to clean up stretches of the shoreline as part of COASTSWEEP. This CZM event began with just 391 volunteers who collected almost two tons of debris along 40 miles of coast. The annual cleanup has grown over the years—in 2019, 3,501 volunteers cleaned 241 miles of coastline, river bank, marsh, seafloor, and lakeshore in eastern Massachusetts—collecting nearly 20 tons of debris from 197 locations. COASTSWEEP cleanups are held from late August through November each year, with the focus being around the International Coastal Cleanup in September.

Common Marine Debris Items

Curious about what volunteers find at a typical cleanup? Analysis indicates that more than half of the items clearly come from land-based sources when litter is blown or washed directly into the ocean or into rivers, streams, and storm drains that run to the sea. Only about 10 percent of the marine debris is confirmed to be released from ocean-based activities, such as boating and fishing. But it all adds up to thousands of tons of trash littering the world's oceans and beaches. The table below shows the top 10 items found along the Massachusetts coast in 2019, which represents the typical types of debris commonly collected during COASTSWEEP.

Top 10 for 2019

Rank Debris Item Amount
1 Cigarette Butts 40,103
2 Plastic Pieces 21,931
3 Food Wrappers 11,753
4 Plastic Bottle Caps 9,554
5 Glass Pieces 8,596
6 Foam Pieces 8,057
7 Plastic Beverage Bottles 6,651
8 Other Plastic Foam Packaging 4,714
9 Straws/Stirrers 4,385
10 Beverage Cans 3,491

For more data, see the Summaries of Annual Cleanups, which links to an overview and summary statistics from past years. More on Marine Debris gives additional details on the types, sources, and impacts of marine debris.

Dedicated COASTSWEEP Volunteers

Thanks to the thousands of dedicated COASTSWEEP volunteers who get out there each year, literally tons of trash have been removed from Massachusetts shorelines. And each beach cleanup is headed by a particularly dedicated volunteer, the cleanup coordinator, who organizes all the action at one or more sites. See Become a COASTSWEEP Cleanup Coordinator or Volunteer for details.

Beyond Clean Beaches

COASTSWEEP is more than a beach cleanup. As part of COASTSWEEP, volunteers help address future problems by filling out data cards to show what they've collected. These cards are sent to Ocean Conservancy in Washington, DC, where the information is entered into a massive database. The data are then used to analyze the local and international trends in marine debris and identify its sources to help reduce the problem in the future.

Whether it is urban trash or abandoned fishing gear, marine debris is more than an eyesore—it can also directly harm sea life and humans. Sea birds, seals, and other animals can be choked, starved, or poisoned when they become entangled in or ingest debris. Sea turtles are particularly vulnerable and can die after swallowing clear plastic bags that they mistake for jellyfish. Beachgoers can injure themselves on sharp edges of glass or metal while walking on the sand or swimming, and boaters can become stranded when propellers are jammed with fishing line or cooling intakes are clogged with plastic.

For more information about marine debris and how you can help, listen to this COASTSWEEP Podcast, Interview with CZM's Robin Lacey, on the WUMB Commonwealth Journal (9/16/12).

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