A Good Turn for Mother Nature

By Robert Peterson

One day every September, Scouting units join with other concerned citizens for the International Coastal Cleanup, a worldwide effort to remove trash and debris from beaches and stream banks.

Sunbathers enjoying the late-summer sun at the beach in Manasquan, N.J., last Sept. 20 watched curiously as nine young boys and a handful of parents strolled by with eyes fixed on the sand.

Every few seconds one of the boys would stoop and pick up a bottle cap, cigarette butt, or other prize with a triumphant call, "Look what I found!" The prize went into a bag toted by a trailing parent.

The boys were Webelos Scouts from Pack 59, chartered to Manasquan Elks Lodge No. 2534. While their group was small in number, they were actually part of a much larger task force, hundreds of thousands of volunteers in more than 75 nations taking part in the 2003 International Coastal Cleanup.

A worldwide Good Turn

Since 1989 the annual cleanup has been coordinated by The Ocean Conservancy, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that aims to protect ocean ecosystems and preserve the abundance and diversity of marine wildlife.

Scouring more than a quarter-mile of Manasquan's beach along the Atlantic Ocean, Pack 59's Webelos Scouts collected 1,012 pieces of trash and debris, ranging from food wrappers and containers to a hypodermic needle, shotgun shells, big pieces of pilings, and even a buoy.

Hurricane Isabel had passed by the day before, and although the storm's main force was felt south of New Jersey, its high winds had littered the Jersey Shore beaches.

The Webelos Scouts were asked why they were cleaning the beach. "We're doing it so seagulls and other birds that are flying around don't grab the trash and choke on it and stop breathing," explained Adam Kloo, son of Webelos den leader Ken Kloo.

Webelos Scout Joe Haley suggested another reason: "So people can have more fun here." Webelos Scout Michael Long elaborated: "So when people are running around and having fun, they don't hurt themselves."

Sources of pollution

Good reasons, all. But as The Ocean Conservancy points out, not all trash is created equal.

Some is dangerous to people, marine wildlife, and the marine environment. Boat motor batteries, for example, leak acid and have plenty of toxic lead, so they will befoul any ocean shoreline or riverbank.

Den leader Ken Kloo is more knowledgeable than most Scouters about pollution problems. He works for New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection, where he's bureau chief for the Office of Brownfield Reuse, which oversees redevelopment of contaminated properties, mostly in urban areas.

His Webelos den was in its third year of participation in the coastal cleanup.

"Each year after the cleanup, we talk about what we've accomplished, what were the common items we found and figure out where they came from," Kloo said. "If we found a lot of cigarette butts, we would ask whether people were smoking on the beach, or did the butts come from somewhere else."

His goal is to get the Scouts "to understand how things get on the shore—to have an understanding and an awareness about the bigger picture," he continued. "It's not just a matter of people tossing stuff on the beach. [For example, things may come from] a storm sewer, [which] is a direct conduit to the beach." (See sidebar).

He pointed to a hypodermic needle the boys found. "...it's likely," Kloo said, "it came from an intravenous drug user who disposed of it down a storm sewer."

Hurricane debris

Sharing the Manasquan Beach for the coastal cleanup with Pack 59's Webelos Scouts were Webelos Scouts from Pack 82, chartered to the Allenwood Parent-Teacher Group in an adjoining town. They, too, combed a quarter-mile of beachfront.

Webelos den leader Craig Reid said his boys also found a lot of bottle caps, balloons, and food wrappers. His Webelos Scouts chimed in with "beer bottles, a rum bottle, fireworks, gun shells, and rope." One boy found a pair of eyeglasses.

"Most of it was blown in by the hurricane," Reid said, "because it was not on the beach, it was up by the sand dunes." Reid and his wife guessed that the den's trash collection weighed 100 pounds.

The two Webelos dens were among only a handful of Scouting units taking part in the cleanup in New Jersey, according to Virginia Loftin of the state's Department of Environmental Protection.

"We have four Girl Scout groups and three Boy Scout groups among our 65 registered groups," she said. The DEP holds a cleanup in the spring as well as late summer. For coastal cleanup day, she estimated that 31 groups with about 1,000 volunteers cleaned 30 miles of the state's beaches.

Streams, rivers, and lakes

Although the term "coastal" implies that only ocean shorelines are covered at cleanup time, some environmental groups also clean inland streams, rivers, and lakes.

One such group is the Perkiomen Watershed Conservancy, which covers waterways in 362 square miles of four counties in southwestern Pennsylvania. It is the largest sub-watershed of the Schuylkill River, feeding into the Delaware River and hence to the Atlantic Ocean.

The conservancy holds two major cleanups of rivers and creeks each year. For the 2003 fall cleanup, about 200 volunteers picked trash and garbage out of the waterways, according to Karel A. Minor, director of development.

"We pulled out 175 tires, garbage cans, a 55-gallon drum of gasoline, and even a Volkswagen Beetle."

Minor said the conservancy's members have been cleaning waterways for 40 years, but it became an organized program only six years ago.

Giving something back

For the Webelos Scouts and parents from Pack 59 in Manasquan, the coastal cleanup day combined an opportunity to learn important lessons about the environment and to perform a major Good Turn.

"I thought it was refreshing that the boys are involved in a civic duty for the community, and because they play on these beaches, it's only right that they should help clean them," observed Craig Larish, father of Scouts Jonathan and James.

Karen Kloo, wife of den leader Ken Kloo and mother of two Webelos Scouts, Adam and Alex, agreed.

"It's a good education for the boys as well as the adults," she said. "It's a community service, considering that we spent a lot of time enjoying the beach, and it's nice that we can give something back."

Contributing editor Robert Peterson lives in Macungie, Pa.

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