Beloved Beaches

There are good causes that you’re expected to donate money or somehow raise awareness about. Nonprofits rely on us to help them monetarily so they can function and do their research, and these are organizations that I gladly help whenever I can.

But then there are those nonprofits that ask us to be the ones making the difference and physically helping. It’s nice when you aren’t told that you’re helping, but can actually see it. When I found out through my friend Valerie’s volunteer blog that she was going to be participating in an Adopt-A-Beach day where people (including her) would head out to beaches and pick up the trash, I jumped at the opportunity to take part.

The annual event, was International Coastal Cleanup Day sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy. In Michigan and three other Great Lakes states, Clean Water Action and The Alliance for the Great Lakes partnered for the project.

On Saturday, Sept. 25, we got up bright and early and headed out to Metro Beach in Harrison Township, Mich. The beach is on Lake St. Clair, which feeds into two Great Lakes — Erie from the south and Huron from the north. I hadn’t been to the beach in about seven years, so I didn’t know what to expect. I wondered how bad it would be though. All I really remembered was that for several summers around the last time I was there, the beach was repeatedly closed down in the summer due to E. coli.

Going for garbage, aka saving the swans.

The park itself is gorgeous and a great place to spend time. The beach … not so much. Valerie is used to Great Lakes in Northern Michigan which are picturesque. It didn’t take too long after getting to Metro for her to ask, “What’s that smell?!”

Regardless, we set out with about 40 other volunteers, garbage bags in our rubber-gloved hands, to look for the forgotten one-time gems and carelessly tossed away trash that summer had left behind.


Val & The Great Goose Decoy

There was a lot of random junk to be found on the beach, but not near as much as in the (stinky) mucky shoreline that was largely guarded by rocks almost as tall as us piled high. After about an hour of carefully walking along the shore like the other volunteers, and Val and I talking about how sad it was that there was so much we were missing (had we known the situation, we would have brought trash grabbers to help us do more), the seasoned hiker in her came out and she trekked down the cement slabs with ease and stretched her arms as far as she could to collect plastic bottles, cans, plastic bags and even a plastic goose decoy lost from another shore.

My job was to get the bag to her and take all the photos I could, while apologizing that they were generally of her backside. After a few minutes of feeling useless, I climbed down to join her. My balance skills were definitely put to the test on the rocks as I tried not to fall and forever be lost in the green, disgusting, gag-inducing muck.

We managed to find everything from light-up toys to a glass whiskey bottle, from cigar tips to wires seemingly coming out of the ground and even rebar.

Wire in the ground for, um, yeah...

After about two hours and filling up a garbage bag between the two of us, we met back with the group and marked down what we’d found. All-in-all, there were about 15 bags full of trash removed from Metro Beach that day that would go on to be weighed. According to the Alliance for the Great Lakes, in 2009, volunteers removed 30,468 pounds of trash from 245 beaches in five states on the Adopt-A-Beach Day. Most commonly found items were cigarette filters (please kick the habit!), food wrappers and containers, caps and lids and cigar tips.

The Great Lakes form the largest fresh water system in the world. In the region, we rely on it for drinking water. In addition to contamination to the water harming humans, it also threatens and damages wildlife and their habitats. I can’t understand how people think it’s OK to throw trash in the water or leave it at the beach.

Regardless, it’s exciting to see so many people band together to protect not only the fresh water, but oceans as well. And I love that cleaning the beaches is something that creates a change that can be seen. When I start to think I really only hauled away a half a bag of trash myself, I remember the 9,000-plus volunteers who also have their bags at least half full and the difference we make.

So Metro Beach may not be what Valerie — or even I, really — expected. But it was worthwhile to do our part to keep it as nice as it can be for the beach that it is and it’s an event we’d like to take part in next year. If you’d like to do so too, check out Alliance for the Great Lakes or the Ocean Conservancy.

And if not, that’s OK. But next time you’re at a beach or out on a boat, before you toss your trash into the sparkling water, think of the wildlife that your harming and drinking water you’re contaminating. And I guess if you don’t, volunteers will take care of what you didn’t!

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