By Jennifer Corr
On Saturday, April 15, Theodore Roosevelt Memorial Park became the scene of a massive cleanup, as well as a center for environmental advocacy. About 100 volunteers and 15 vendors participated in the Town of Oyster Bay Harbor Cleanup and Marine Expo. Along with volunteers collecting 400 pounds of trash left on the beach and learning from these vendors, who were made up of environmental and wildlife advocacy groups, volunteer divers went below the surface to help retrieve trash, collecting a bag-full. Additionally, five boats and a couple sets of docks were demolished.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, any trash not recycled or properly thrown away can reach beaches when it is carried by the rain into storm drains, streams and rivers, flowing into bays and estuaries all the way to the ocean, which will eventually wash up on the beach. This trash includes plastic bags, bottles, cans, cigarette filters, bottle caps and lids. Trash can also end up on the beach when it’s left behind by people or when fishermen lose or discard their fishing nets and lines in the ocean. And this mismanaged trash that escapes into waterways can create a problem. Aquatic trash affects water quality, endangers plants and animals and pollutes the outdoor spaces depended on for tourism and recreation. Plastic is especially concerning because of its lifespan and its widespread production, use and disposal.
“I was pleased to join with volunteers and numerous environmental organizations to help promote the importance of protecting our waterways and cleaning our shoreline,” said Town of Oyster Bay Councilwoman Laura Maier. “This great event not only promotes awareness but also provides participants with hands-on opportunities to make a true difference. This year’s Harbor Cleanup also featured our Marine Education Expo, where environmentalists and marine educators offered exhibits on local wildlife, ecosystem restoration projects, solutions to help tackle marine pollution, a marine vessel restoration project and boat yard tour, as well as family fun activities.”
Among the organizations that attended the event were the Cornell Cooperative Extension Marine Program, New York Sea Grant, Coastal Steward Long Island, the NY Marine Rescue Center, Friends of the Bay, Volunteers for Wildlife, and the Audubon Society, among others.
Coastal Steward Long Island’s mission is to restore and preserve Long Island’s coastline through education, raising public awareness and community action. They host several beach cleanups.
“I think [this event] is an important crossover and interfacing with other organizations for awareness purposes, for interest, for growing the base of people that could potentially help each other,” Tom Vicale, the director of communications at Coastal Steward, said. “This is the first time we’ve attended and I would support it again in the future, coming from Suffolk County to this part of Long Island.”
The New York Marine Rescue Center, based out of the Long Island Aquarium in Riverhead, operates the New York State Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Rescue Program. Their primary mission is to rescue, rehabilitate and release marine mammals and sea turtles. The New York Marine Center states that you should observe these animals from a distance of at least 150 feet, as per the Marine Mammal Protection Act. And if you see a sick, injured, or deceased seal, whale, dolphin, porpoise, or sea turtle, you should call the 24-hour rescue hotline at 631-369-9829. Right now the New York Marine Rescue Center is taking care of three sea turtles and seven seals.
“For us, [this event is about] making people aware of the animals we work with that are in our waters, that are affected by, in particular today, trash and entanglements,” said Steve Abbondondelo of the New York Marine Center. “Sea turtles are in our waters during the summer, so we try to get people who have a boat aware of sea turtles that may be on the surface.”
Volunteers for Wildlife brought their resident Eastern Screech Owl Orlando to the expo. Orlando was found in Glen Cove in 2009 as a young owlet when the tree his nest was in was cut down. A landscaper took him for several weeks, feeding him an improper diet and getting him used to people. And because Orlando was not raised by his parents, he never learned to hunt live prey and is too tame around humans. Skip Dommin of the Volunteers for Wildlife said that educating the public is very important so that people gain an appreciation for the wildlife that’s on Long Island.
“The species we have here are amazing,” Dommin said. “As a rescue organization, we find the mast majority of reasons for admission into our hospital are human-related; collisions with vehicles and buildings, poisons in the environment. Today we’re having a beach cleanup… The plastics, and fishing line present a hazard to these animals.”