Islanders gathered at beaches all over Martha’s Vineyard Saturday morning to clean up trash from the environment during the Vineyard Conservation Society’s 30th annual Earth Day beach cleanup.
“Earth Day is pretty special, because it brings all of the Islanders together to clean up our beaches and ponds for everyone to enjoy,” Betsy Dripps, a member of the Friends of Sengekontacket Board, said. “We get all kinds of people out here.”
The 2022 beach cleanup was the first time since the COVID pandemic started, according to Samantha Look, who is in charge of education and youth at the society. Look told The Times the the beach cleanup was “individual and digital” during 2020, to comply with COVID protocols. Small groups were allowed to co-clean at the beaches in 2021, but an afterparty was not held. This year, the society and the many partner organizations, such as the Martha’s Vineyard Rod & Gun Club and the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), could run the event in full by cleaning up at 27 beaches across the Island, and celebrating with an afterparty at Sailing Camp Park in Oak Bluffs.
“Lots of different organizations have beaches that they man for the day,” Look said. “It feels very much like a great community event, with lots of people pulling together to give back in celebration of Earth Day.”
Signe Benjamin, who is in charge of programs and membership at the society, agreed. Benjamin said the different organizations and individuals, whether they be long-timers at the cleanup or new, are upbeat and excited about the event, which has made running the event for around 15 years a fun experience for her.
“Our mission is to preserve and protect the land and the water on Martha’s Vineyard, and community-organized events like this one are one of the best ways to do that,” Benjamin said. “We want to inspire people and get them excited about taking care of our environment. This is one of the best ones, for sure.”
During the beach cleanups, a range of items can be found littered or hidden in the sand. These include items from beer cans to busted lobster pots. Sometimes, people find unexpected items.
“Last year someone found a $100 bill,” volunteer Stefan Willimann told The Times.
The protection of the Island’s natural resources is a vital part of what makes people love the Island, and Look said there were similarities between how Earth Day and the society were founded. According to the Earth Day website, the event “marks the anniversary of the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970,” and the society’s website said it was founded in 1965 as an environmental “watchdog group” on the Island. Protecting the beach on the annual cleanup helps protect the Island’s open space.
“Beaches in general are such an iconic and important part of our Island life, and so it feels like a poignant place and way to do something for the environment. Literally, it is such an important part of our lives as the buffer between us and the ocean, and then also just a place so many of us living here relax, find a lot of joy, it drives our economy. Really, beaches are such an important part, and they’re a very visual part of our environment,” Look said.
Look believes the beach cleanup is an event people look forward to.
“The Vineyard is an easy place to love. I like to think that the community has a lot of desire to care for this place, and this is a great event to get to do that,” Look said. “It is nice to live in a place that the community feels so connected to and wants to take care of, and this is a great way to do it.”