2015-01-08 / Nature

COA Hopes to Influence Clean Events

By Olga Enger

As hundreds of people plunged into Newport’s frigid waters on New Year's Day, others celebrated by sprucing up the coastline, which one environmental advocate described as an opportunity to open a new dialogue with the city.

Twenty volunteers picked up 75 pounds of debris at Easton's Beach on Jan. 1, and six people collected 245 pounds of debris at Fort Adams State Park the day earlier, both as part of cleanups hosted by Clean Ocean Access (COA).

Although the organizers of the city-sponsored New Year’s Eve fireworks picked up the majority of the Shaw’s waste, COA volunteers still collected a significant amount of leftovers, which may have otherwise ended up in the ocean.

"The fireworks at Easton’s Beach were fantastic, but we found a lot of debris — quite a bit of it was not biodegradable," said COA’s David McLaughlin. “In hindsight, we should have reached out to the city before the event.” He added this was an opportunity to see firsthand how a partnership with COA could avoid unintended environmental consequences from special events.

The cleanups were part of COA's Marine Debris Solutions Lifecycle Project (MDSLP), a program designed to achieve long-term benefits through community stewardship. Although cleanups are an important piece of the puzzle, McLaughlin said that is only “fixing problems of the past.” Through advocacy and policy, the organization hopes to influence change for both events and individuals.

He explained that improved signage, encouraging carpooling, waste management, and the use of environmentally safe supplies would reduce the total carbon footprint of events. Although the city ultimately would have to enforce such policy, partnering with nonprofits can help keep government small, said McLaughlin.

As the city considers a proposed relocation of the Newport Waterfront Concert Series to Fort Adams State Park, McLaughlin hopes the city considers an environmental impact strategy, which would put Newport in a position of environmental leadership when it comes to events. The Newport City Council will host a workshop to discuss the relocation proposal on Jan. 21 at the Newport Public Library, located at 300 Spring St., while a second workshop on Jan. 27 will provide a forum to examine recycling at special events.

McLaughlin said an environmental approach doesn’t require drastic changes and that the bar “must be raised slowly.”

“Maybe set a goal that by 2017 there would be no single-use plastics at events,” suggested the environmentalist. “Or if a vendor has 1,000 styrofoam cups, maybe they should use paper cups.”

McLaughlin said that with help from local government, COA could ultimately change behaviors that provide long-term benefits to Aquidneck Island's coastline and waters. “But you can’t mandate it by tomorrow. It’s not possible,” he reiterated.

Although COA is best known for its beach cleanups, the group is equally committed to this type of advocacy. “There is a tremendous amount of work ahead of us for the removal of existing marine debris; however, just as much effort will be put towards education and solutions,” explained McLaughlin. “We are confident that our programs will create long-lasting stewardship and ultimately lead to changes in human behavior so that newly occurring trash becomes a thing of the past,” he said.

The public is invited to review the COA annual report, which is scheduled for Jan. 28 at 6:30 p.m. at the Newport Library.

COA will host two coastal cleanups every month until May, and then increase one per week throughout the summer. For more information, contact info@cleanoceanaccess.org or 401-465-0628.

TO GO

Jan. 10–Greene Lane and Burma Road, Middletown

Jan. 17–Pheasant Drive Beach, Portsmouth

Feb. 9–Easton’s Beach, Newport

Feb. 23–Gull Cove Fishing Area, Portsmouth

All cleanups start at noon, visit cleanoceanaccess.org for final details and schedule changes.

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