It’s been a little while since I’ve popped in here to write anything. March was a whirlwind, and somehow we are already midway through April - how did that happen?! On Saturday I attended the biggest beach clean up (that I’ve ever participated in) at Sandy Hook — one of my favorite NJ shore points. The “Beach Sweeps” event was hosted by Clean Ocean Action and was held at over 60 different locations that day. At Sandy Hook alone, there were approximately 600 volunteers! 😱It was insane, and incredibly inspiring to be a part of.
They had school buses take groups out to clean up different parts of the park, which I thought was an awesome way to make sure everyone was spread out. My bus dropped us off on the bay side closer to the entrance. 90% of what I picked up was shredded micro plastics, food wrappers, and styrofoam. I focused a lot on the small stuff - stuff that so many people had walked by. I actually barely covered any ground at all because there was SO much buried in the sticks and debris. Straws and cigarettes easily camouflaged.. and I could have probably sat in one spot the entire 2 hours and still not have combed through all the accumulated broken plastic bits. Incredibly frustrating… but I’m glad I made the effort to pick up what I could.
Unlike the Asbury Park clean up I went to a couple months ago, volunteers here were encouraged to bring their own buckets (to cut back on plastic trash bags). I usually carry tote bags with me to pick up litter - but a bucket is SO much more sturdy and way easier to clean afterwards. 😅Volunteers were also encouraged to keep trash and recycling separate, but sadly most of what I found was not recyclable. The only thing that was was a single soda can.
At the end of the clean up, they served hot dogs and chips. While it’s great they had food for that many people, I do wish they had some vegetarian or vegan friendly options. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who wished this! Terracycle also provided a few snack bag recycling boxes (that a lot of people paid no attention to)? I found myself personally pulling a few chip bags out of the trash bags to put them in the recycling box… wondering how people who were here for this joint cause could be so oblivious? 🤔There were also disposable cups at the water coolers… again I wondered why didn’t more people bring a reusable water bottle to fill instead? I realize it may be a lot to expect people to do these things (especially because it was such a large group) but also… damn… I couldn’t help but question it all. It was really thought provoking / ironic seeing how much trash was generated by the volunteer group itself over one catered lunch.
Although the event officially wrapped by early afternoon, I stuck around to enjoy the rest of the sunny day. I took a walk on the beach on the ocean side - where I continued to pick up any trash that I saw. Of course, it was more spread out than the bay area - but it was still there. I found an empty dog poop bag flying around and filled it up with tiny pieces and hauled out some larger pieces (bottles and styrofoam) in my tote bags.
I also came across a giant dead bird… which I think was a Northern gannet if my Google research is correct. Every time I come across dead wildlife on the shore line, I can’t help but wonder if humans had something to do with it. This is the biggest dead bird I’ve ever seen in person, and it reminded me so much of Chris Jordan’s Albatross documentary (worth a watch if you haven’t seen it yet). Gannets are basically the albatrosses of the North Atlantic as they are the biggest seabird in this region with a wing span of up to 6.6 ft.. 💔
Towards the end of my walk, a fog rolled in (but the sun was still shining) and it was so surreal but also SO COOL. I mean photos can’t even do it justice. I felt like I was on another planet as everything around me disappeared.
Since Sandy Hook has a pack in / pack out policy, there was no where to dispose of what I had collected… so I dropped it off in my car before taking off (again) in the other direction. 😅I went for a long walk / hike to Fort Hancock (from parking lot D). I usually bike that path, so it was refreshing to see it all by foot. The wonky dead trees are one of my favorite parts. 🙃
There’s this section of grass across from Officers’ Row along the water where these vibrant little wildflowers pop up, and I wanted to see if they had bloomed yet (they hadn’t). The picture above is from August 2017, so now I know.. 😅
What I did find, however, was the last thing I expected to see — an enormous build up of litter amongst piles of washed up drift wood and debris. I felt completely gutted at the sight… I guess none of the COA Beach Sweeps volunteers had been bussed out to this location, unfortunately. 😭I had a 45 minute walk back to my car, and then a 90 minute drive home after that and it was getting late… so there sadly wasn’t much I could do that day. I picked up a little bit, but barely made a dent..
Hopefully it can be tackled at the next Beach Sweeps event in October (or sooner). I mean heck… the next time I’m there, I’ll pick some more up myself. If you frequent Sandy Hook, I encourage you to do the same!
As inspiring as it is to participate in a larger organized clean up, I think it’s important to remember that we don’t necessarily need to wait to be a part of a big group to do something - we are all capable of picking litter up wherever we go, whenever we see it. No special occasion or permission needed. 😉
Just before leaving to walk back to where I was parked — one of the last things I found was this heart. Although it too was a piece of litter, it made me smile despite the day ending on a bit of a sad note. Sometimes the weight of picking up trash (trying to undo some of the damage that’s been done) feels heavy - overwhelmingly daunting and dark and hopeless… but little finds like these feel like glimmers of light and reason to believe that maybe there’s some hope in trying after all. 💗