This past Saturday morning, more than a hundred volunteers set out into the chilly, misty rain to help clean up the island’s beaches. They gathered plastic, beer bottles, cigarette butts, and some interesting larger items, then gathered for lunch at SBS in Vineyard Haven. This was the Vineyard’s 18th annual Earth Day Beach Clean-up.
Over the years, the weather has run the gamut from beautiful, summery days to a full-fledged nor’easter about five years ago. Pat Durfee, a member of VCS’s Board of Directors, recalled that day: “The Eastville Parking lot was flooded,” she said, “but people came anyway.” This year’s weather wasn’t enough to deter the volunteers, either.
Brendan O’Neill, Executive Director of VCS, credited the many organizations involved in the effort with bringing people out despite the sometimes-inclement weather. “The commitment of these organizations means that they’re there,” he says. Each group was assigned one of the 22 beaches on VCS’s list, but many volunteers arrived independently to help clean their favorite beaches.
At Eastville Beach, volunteers came and collected several bags of garbage. Some of them were associated with Eastville Beach’s official sponsoring group, Martha’s Vineyard Savings Bank, but many were not. Claire Daigle and her 11-year-old daughter, Alison, a student at the Tisbury School, came to help for their first beach clean-up day on the Island. “We just moved here in October,” said Ms. Daigle, “and we’re just volunteering.”
Bill Narkiewicz is a regular at the Eastville Beach cleanup. He came with his son, Zale, 11, a student at the Charter School. “We’ve come every year, as long as I can remember,” Zale said.
“I used to do the live broadcast for WMVY,” Mr. Narkiewicz said. “After that, we just came to clean. We do it every year, because it’s important.”
Ms. Durfee says that children’s participation is vital to the effort. “Small children help their parents clean the beach,” she said, “and that becomes part of the Island culture for them. This is the second year that we’ve had a raffle for a $50 gift certificate to Riley’s Reads for the children who participate, to let them know we appreciate their contribution.”
Mr. O’Neill says that VCS has participated in Earth Day from the beginning. “VCS played a leadership role in the first Earth Day in 1970, under the direction of Bob Woodruff, with the Island’s first recycling initiative,” he said. “Now recycling is something that we do all the time. It’s all part of making environmental awareness second nature.”
An hour later, at SBS, volunteers warmed up with hot dogs, soup, sizzling kebabs, and fresh pizzas. On the porch, a band called the PhD Trio played. They take their name from guitarist Phil DaRosa; other two members are Pinto Abrams on bass and Matt Rosenthal on drums and flute.
Matt Castro dished up soup in one of the tents. “Every day is beach clean-up day for me,” he said. “Any time I go to the beach, I pick up trash.” That sentiment was echoed by many others who stood in the still-damp mist enjoying their lunch and swapping stories of what they’d found.
Barney Zeitz of Tisbury helped out at Lambert’s Cove Beach. “We found an amazing amount of stuff, I couldn’t believe it,” Mr. Zeitz said. “We got four bags full of stuff, lots of beer bottles, most of them empty, but there were some full ones, too. Unopened beer bottles!”
On the other side of the Island, members of The Rotary Club of MV and volunteers from LaSalle College scoured Wilson’s Landing on Edgartown Great Pond. “We found a microwave oven, a gas grill, carpeting, a lawn mower, and a lot of sails that were ripped and just thrown in the woods,” said Rolfe Wenner of Edgartown.
Meanwhile, Cub Scouts and their families — totalling 32 volunteers — cleaned the beach and dunes around the Edgartown lighthouse. “I liked last year’s beach clean-up better because it wasn’t rainy and cold,” said Camden Emory, a scout, but he and his family came anyway.
His mother, Triva Emory, was impressed with what they found. “We found a metal detector and a geocache letterbox,” she said. “And there were balloons everywhere.” Ms. Emory said that the number of balloons littering the beach made her want to stop using them at birthday parties.
The atmosphere among the gathered volunteers was festive, despite the damp. The Earth Day Beach Clean-up has become a solid, weather-proof tradition, bringing together families, businesses, and volunteer organizations year after year, But let’s not forget those who make beach cleaning part of every walk on the beach, year-round.