Keeping the beach clean: Simple deed, big difference
Dirty food containers, empty liquor bottles, and cigarette butts as far as the eye can see. These hazardous and unsanitary items, among others, have been familiar sights along town and state beaches in Oak Bluffs this summer, much to the disgust of Islanders and visitors. Luckily, Oak Bluffs seasonal resident Naina Williams decided to take action into her own hands.
What began with complaints about beach cleanliness at a meeting of the town's Seaview Waterfront Committee - Ms. Williams's husband Eric is a summer representative - became a significant beach cleanup project initiated by the Williams family.
"This was a really fabulous project," Ms. Williams said of the effort to promote clean beaches in Oak Bluffs. "When you see your beaches looking really shabby, and there's not enough funding from your town to clean it themselves, you think, 'Okay, let's do something here.'"
Explaining how her part in the cleanup project began, she said that her husband volunteered their family to clean up trash on the beach during a committee meeting. "My husband mentioned my daughter, who's really into the environment, and said we'd like to volunteer to help to clean up the beach," she said. "And then [Oak Bluffs selectman and Seaview Waterfront Committee chair] Kerry Scott got involved, and so did Elizabeth Davis, another summer resident who owns a home in Oak Bluffs. It really just became a community cleanup effort."
Their first cleanup initiative began July 16, and Ms. Williams said that day was really about getting a feel for the problem, and determining what kind of trash they would find, and how badly it was affecting beach-goers.
"The first day was good," Ms. Williams said. "We started with about 10 of us, and as we were cleaning people started saying, 'What are you doing? Can I get involved?'"
From then on, the Oak Bluffs Beach Clean-up Brigade, as they called themselves, met Tuesday and Friday mornings at 8:30 am by the center stairs leading down to Inkwell Beach. Visitors, friends, and children began showing up to do their part.
"I began by putting a notice for the cleanup event on Facebook, which I was really leery about doing, at first," Ms. Williams said. "I thought the response would be really positive, but I was shocked that people were leaving nasty comments, like, 'Why are you doing this? Why isn't the town of Oak Bluffs?'"
Though frustrated by the reactions of some people to a cause she thought was both worthy and necessary, Ms. Williams and her cleanup crew persisted. She said it became like a family event, and her group expanded to 25 people, with an age span of three- and four-year olds to elderly women who are in their mid-70's doing their part to help clean the town's beaches.
Of the younger accomplices helping out, Ms. Williams said, "It's really a great thing for the kids to get out there in the collective spirit, and they actually had fun doing it. Sometimes on the really hot days they would just jump into the water with their clothes on."
A typical cleanup morning started with Ms. Williams handing out disposable gloves and two types of trash bags - orange for trash and clear for recyclables. Kids often walked in pairs collecting the rubbish they found. The typical items they found included bottles and cans, rope, plastic straws, food containers, and tons of cigarette butts. "We actually coined the phrase: The only butts we want to see on this beach are yours," she joked.
Ms. Williams said sometimes they would also find really peculiar things, like wires, birthday balloon ribbons, and random hunks of metal that she assumed washed up on the beach from boats.
"There was one day that I was actually appalled," Ms. Williams said. "We always collected both recycling and garbage, and there was one day we had honestly six bags of just recyclables. There were just tons of beer cans and liquor bottles, and it was truly disgusting. Somebody must have had one heck of a party."
The Clean-up Brigade also found discarded valuables on the beaches; things like shoes, toys, and articles of clothing. "There were days when you just picked up anything and everything," Ms. Williams said.
Although she is returning to her permanent residence in Washington, D.C., this week, Ms. Williams said she hopes that the cleanup efforts continue after she has left the Island, and she certainly hopes to pick it back up herself next summer. "I loved how people really appreciate the effort, not that you're looking for great notoriety or anything," she said. "It's just sad that people don't really care about where they leave their trash."