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COASTAL BAYS Our troubling, trashy lives - August 3, 2010

This is the Coastal Bays column for the week of 7-25-10 for the Daily Times, Worcester County Times, Beachcomber, and OPI by Carrie Samis. Samis is the Education Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

 

We’re a trashy lot.

Residents of and visitors to the Town of Ocean City generate in excess of 32,000 tons of trash annually. As a society, we still don’t recycle and reuse to the degree that we should, nor have we done much to reduce the amount of waste we produce. And I’m just as guilty as the next person.

What’s really disheartening is that reported trash tonnage only accounts for trash that is properly disposed of and weighed or otherwise quantified as it is taken to landfills or incinerators or recycling operations.

Now, think about all the trash that is not properly accounted for, not properly disposed of… think about all the trash you see in parking lots, in ditches, along roadsides, piled up back in the wood somewhere, clogging stormdrains and ditches, and polluting our waterways.

In mid-July, I was privileged to be part of a small team that included Assateague State Park Staff, Assateague National Park staff, and Coastal Stewards, who assisted with banding brown pelicans in the Chesapeake and royal terns in the coastal bays. I considered myself fortunate to have the opportunity to handle and band these birds and, though not a scientist, was proud to be able to contribute to scientific efforts. But while out on the islands where the birds nest – tiny islands accessible only by boat – I was shocked to see the accumulation of such a variety of trash. Plastic bottles, tires, construction debris, a toilet bowl, derelict crab pots, buoys and bushel baskets, and what seemed like miles and miles of tangled fishing line.

The most disturbing find was one pile of royal terns, 4 adults and one baby chick, completely entangled in the same mass of monofilament line. All of the birds were dead and in various stages of decay. Four dead royal terns, on one of only two islands in the coastal bays where they are known to nest. Not good. So, my next trip to those islands in the coastal bays will be with Assateague COASTKEEPER Kathy Phillips who is helping to organize cleanup and trash removal.

And don’t think landlubbers aren’t also responsible. The majority of this trash doesn’t come from people out on the water or in boats, it comes from people on the land.

According to data from years of coastal cleanups, locally and throughout the world, the number one type of trash found on beaches is cigarette butts. Cigarette butts are also one of the most common types of trash found on our roadways. Did you know that cigarette butts can take up to 15 years to decay? They should be disposed of properly, just like any other trash. Plastic bottles, plastic lids, and plastic food wrappers are also common types of discarded trash. Plastic bottles can take up to 450 years to decompose.

In addition to being an eyesore, trash can impact water quality, clog drains, and impact wildlife. Monofilament is one of the most detrimental items found along our local waterways, but isn’t the only killer. Filmy, lightweight plastic bags can travel great distances if they catch even a slight breeze and can quickly end up in a body of water – and then, they float. While afloat, they resemble jellyfish – a favorite food of sea turtles. Partially-deflated balloons with long, curled ribbon also look a lot like jellyfish when floating in the water. If ingested, plastic bags can seriously harm wildlife.

When possible, don’t use plastic bags. Use reusable shopping bags made from cloth or other durable material. And if looking for a special way to commemorate an event or honor a special person, please don’t release balloons. While that visual of balloons floating off into a blue sky may be initially beautiful, the site is much less so when the balloons deflate, which they always do, and end up tangled in a tree or floating in the water – and they pose significant threats to wildlife which often result in death.

So, what else can you do? Well, most importantly, pick up after yourself. And then, yes, please take some time to pick up after someone else. Chances are, someone picked up after you at some point in your life. Return the favor. It may not be your trash but it is your planet.

If you’re interested in helping to cleanup our coastal bays, please contact the Maryland Coastal Bays Program at mcbp@mdcoastalbays.org or visit www.mdcoastalbays.org for more information.

 

Carrie Samis is the Education Coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

 

 

 

 



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