PHOTO: Provincetown beach brigades collect trash on Cape Cod to celebrate Earth Day

By Fiona Skeggs
Medill report

The sound of chatter filled the air on a quiet spring morning in Provincetown, Massachusetts, as people greeted one another, wearing rubber boots and distributing gloves, buckets and knives among the crowd.

Gathered at a suburban revolving event on the morning of April 22, volunteers filled bags with trash bags in preparation for the 2022 Earth Day Beach Cleanup. Laura Ludwig of the Center for Coastal Studies organized the event and gave a safety briefing before the cleanup crew dispersed aboard. rocks, excited to get started.

“You will find a trap. You will find the tube. You will find ship parts. You’ll find pillows, boots, everything,” said Laura Ludwig (right), director of the Marine Debris and Plastics Program at the Center for Coastal Studies, as she distributed gloves, knives, trash bags and plastic bags to volunteers in front of Beach Cleanup Day. Earth on April 22, 2022, in Provincetown, Massachusetts. (Fiona Skeggs/ MEDILL)

Image description; impression: A group of 10 people, wearing winter hats and jackets, gathered around a silver pick-up truck. On the bed of the truck, a woman, wearing maroon pants and a gray sweater, distributes black garbage bags to people.

The empty bucket sat on the sidewalk amid shouts of “I recognize that face” and “Nice to see you again!” Regular visitors to the clean beach greet each other before leaving. Excited volunteers, equipped with gloves and trash bags, grabbed buckets and displayed homemade garbage collection containers. (Fiona Skeggs/MEDILL)

Image description; impression: Eleven empty plastic buckets on the ground. Most are white with black and red lettering; one is black, and the other is blue. Some have blue paint peeling off around the rims.

Volunteers, also known as the “rubble brigade,” head across the one-mile causeway from the west end of Provincetown to reach Wood End Beach. A total of 35 people joined the cleanup, which Ludwig said was a “strong turnout given the difficulty” of the location. (Fiona Skeggs/ MEDILL)

Image description; impression: A group of five walked across the cobblestone causeway heading away from the beach. In front of the group, another group of five could be seen further along the wall. People are wearing brightly colored jackets with winter hats. Everyone brought a plastic bucket. The rocks are pale brown on top of the walls and dark brown with seaweed alongside – the tide line. On both sides of the wall was water, and in the distance was a yellow sand beach and a small white lighthouse with a black roof.

Clean Beach
Volunteers climb through thick underbrush and across watery marshes to collect trash from the beach and surrounding sand dunes. Ludwig said a lot of trash was carried by the current and carried by the wind into the bushes. (Fiona Skeggs/MEDILL)

Image description; impression: A man wearing blue jeans, a yellow raincoat, gray gardening gloves and a light gray wide-brimmed hat fumbled through a bush of green and brown twigs. In his left hand he holds a white plastic bucket. Behind him a woman wearing a pink jacket and black baseball cap stood and looked at the bushes on the ground.

Volunteers filled plastic barrels found on the beach with small items that were easily blown by the wind and piled larger and heavier items in storage bins above the high-tide line for Park Service to collect. “We didn’t even make a dent,” said Ludwig (center), who is planning a four-day fall cleanup. He said the location of Wood End Beach and the ever-changing tides made the logistics of removing trash difficult, but he was determined to come back and continue clean-up efforts in the area. (Fiona Skeggs/ MEDILL)

Image description; impression: A group of six people stood talking on the hay-covered ground, while a woman with curly brown hair wearing a black overall, pink long-sleeved shirt and brown rubber boots used a white plastic bucket to squeeze the contents of a red plastic barrel. . Behind them, a man in blue jeans and a red shirt walked through the green and gray bushes holding a white plastic bucket.

One of the many piles of rubbish piled up along the beach during the clean-up. Items collected included fishing rods, ropes, shoes, pillows, glass and plastic bottles, bottle caps, bait bags, lobster traps, trap IDs, wetsuits, polystyrene, tires, fiberglass boat parts, tampon applicators, detergent bottles laundry, and face masks. Plastic becomes brittle in the sun and breaks into small pieces when touched; this makes removal cumbersome and time consuming. (Fiona Skeggs/MEDILL)

Image description; impression: Piles of garbage strewn on the beach. There is a gray plastic bucket with a clear plastic water bottle, a red plastic tub and a white plastic bag inside. Next to the gray bucket sits a white plastic bucket with pieces of blue and beige fishing line inside. Behind the bucket was a black garbage bag filled with small holes on the sides, and behind the bag was a wooden plank and some yellow material.

O. Davis
Owen Davis, a junior high school student, hauls a wetsuit to a pile of trash on the beach. He said he traveled 35 miles from Chatham, Massachusetts, to join a cleanup crew after Ludwig inspired him to volunteer while giving a talk at his student climate ambassadors class the previous week. (Fiona Skeggs/MEDILL)

Image description; impression: A teenage boy wearing a beige baseball cap, light gray sweater, beige trousers, and blue gloves walks through the bushes. On his sweater were the words “walls are meant for climbing.” In his left hand, held over his shoulder, he carried a black wetsuit. Behind him was a pile of trash, and on the floor beside him was a white plastic bucket.

A piece of yellow plastic tube sticking out of the beach cleaning bag. The pipe first appeared on the coast along the headland in September 2021, and Ludwig traces its origins to a blasting project in Boston Harbor. He measured the length of each piece he found and recorded its location. Together with the US Army Corps of Engineers, Ludwig is working to prevent blast tubes, which are used to carry explosives through the water to the rock below, from entering the ocean during future projects. According to a statement from the US Army Corps of Engineers, the canister is inert and safe to handle. Program assistant Kathryn Brooks has created a citizen science portal that allows anyone who finds a tube piece to contribute to the data set by recording the length and location of the tube found. Local artist Sarah Thornington has created a life-size canary sculpture from a piece of pipe. “I want to look like [it’s made from] shock wires,” he said. “I don’t want it to look like I drew it.” The canaries will act as a warning for future projects about how far debris can spread. (Fiona Skeggs/MEDILL)

Image description; impression: A white plastic bucket with blue paint peeling off the edges was placed on the ground like straw. Protruding from the top of the bucket was a piece of thin yellow cord and a blue mesh bag. Behind the bucket someone stood and carried a large white garbage bag looking at the ground.

Fiona Skeggs is a graduate student in science and environmental journalism at Medill. You can follow him on Twitter at @fiona_skeggs.

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