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Beach Cleanup Yields 750 Pounds of Debris

Volunteers with the trash they collected (from left): Steve Kalpee, Analis Petersen, Chrys Petersen, Sean LaPlace, Jason Budsan and Dalma Simon. Kalpee and Budsan hold oil containers found in a tree.

Plastic bags, candy wrappers, paper plates, soda cans, cigarette butts … these things don’t just appear in nature. They are discarded by human hands, and they pollute our waters and beaches.

Each September, from the shores of Bangor, Maine, to Bangladesh, hundreds of thousands of pairs of human hands join together to the clean the rivers, lakes and ocean beaches of the debris that other hands have wrought in an International Coastal Cleanup, organized by The Ocean Conservancy.

The local campaign, Coast Weeks 2009, kicked off this weekend — Saturday at Brewers Beach and Sunday at Lindbergh Bay — as local workers joined about 450,000 others in 75 countries in the international cleanup.

Volunteers from local organizations attacked the debris, bagging up about 55 bags at Brewers. The debris weighed in at about 750 pounds, approximately 200 pounds more than last year, according to Heather Hitt, public outreach coordinator for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Coastal Zone Management division.

Hitt and fellow coordinator Cordell Jacobs, Anti-litter and Beautification Commission director, had lots of help, as evidenced by a monumental pile of white plastic bags, stuffed full. About 45 volunteers showed up, hailing from Antilles School, the University of the Virgin Islands, Alvin McBean and Little League East, and the Ritz-Carlton.

Once the work was completed, a small group gathered under the shade of a sea grape tree for presentation of the 2009 CZM Awareness Awards.

This awards program recognizes local individuals and organizations for their dedication, outstanding contributions and commitment in helping the CZM program manage, enhance and protect coastal and ocean resources for the future. There are three categories.

Kris Bennet, a marine and environmental science teacher at Gift Hill School on St. John, was named Coastal Zone Person of the Year for promoting stewardship and responsibility in her students through participating in activities such as Coastweeks, National Park Service reef fish and conch surveys, and St. John’s Earth Day Fair.

Christopher Loeffler, a masters of marine science student at UVI, was named Coastal College Student of the Year for his studies involving coral-reef monitoring, ciguatera research, sediment monitoring, and educating the public on the threats of coral reef, mangrove, and sea grass ecosystems.

The St. Croix Reef Jam Committee was awarded the Coastal Zone Organization of the year for promoting community education, stewardship and conservation programs through their mini-grants opportunities funded by their Reef Jam events.

A tired but dedicated group of Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John (EAST) were loading about 18 bags of trash into a pickup about noon Sunday at Lindbergh Bay, still shaking their heads over the events of the morning.

The cleanup had taken a bizarre turn Sunday when two men came to the beach — not to help clean, but to steal sand.

EAST stalwarts Jason Budsan and Dalma Simon, along with Steve Kalpee, still seemed nonplussed by the experience.

"Two guys with big plastic containers just marched on the beach and started filling them with sand," Budsan said. "Renata Platenberg from Fish and Wildlife was here and she told them to stop, it was illegal. We called DPNR and the police. The police came and we filed a report. The police made them dump the sand, and then, before they left, one of them looked at us and said, ‘We’ll be back.’"

As if that wasn’t discouraging enough, the volunteers, about six left from a group of 18 earlier, said most of the garbage they collected wasn’t from the beach. It was from a dilapidated food van parked on the road by the beach, Jackie’s Mobile Food Van.

"As you can see," Budsan said, "it’s not mobile. The tires are flat."

The group said most of the garbage was on the beach side of the van, with plastic cups, plates, all over and two oil containers in cardboard boxes stuck in a tree.

"I don’t know how the Port Authority allows this van to use this space," Budsan said.

Environmental activist Chrys Petersen said "colored candles, lots of them," were among the most unusual things they picked up, along with some electrical equipment and the usual plastic bottles and aluminum cans.

"But by far the most garbage is from that food ‘un-mobile,’" Budsan said.

The Coastweeks cleanup will continue until Oct. 31. Groups and individuals are urged to sign up by calling Hirt at 774-3320 or EAST at 775-2984.

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