Museum hosts its first Earth Day jubilee

Conservation organizations come together after VCS Islandwide beach cleanup


Around 300 people gathered alongside 18 different conservation organizations to celebrate Earth Day at the Martha’s Vineyard Museum this past Saturday.

After hitting the beaches for the 31st annual Vineyard Conservation Society (VCS) Islandwide beach cleanup, families, friends, coworkers, and members of local environmental nonprofits gathered at the museum for the kickoff of a brand-new event.

In the past, VCS has hosted an appreciation luncheon at the Sail MV camp for volunteers who spent their morning picking up Styrofoam, cigarette butts, and nip bottles. But this year — and likely for the future — the museum hosted the lunch party, and nonprofits in the sustainability space set up information booths with pamphlets, posters, and professionals in the field present to explain their various initiatives.

Before the event, volunteers hit the beaches, and it was an impressive turnout. Down on State Beach, Friends of Sengekontacket board member Martha Klein danced at her registration table while she listened to some upbeat tunes, and handed people trash bags and gloves. 

“I’ve done the cleanup for the last five years or so, but I’ve been on the [Friends of Sengekontacket] board for two years,” Klein said. “We do other beach cleanups throughout the year. Our whole mission is to preserve and protect the pond, so we really focus our efforts right here.”

Klein said she wants to get the word out about the new jubilee at the museum in order to ensure it will be an ongoing event each year. 

“This year we have seen a really great level of participation. I’ve seen tons of kids and families, groups from businesses like Fine Fettle that are volunteering — it seems like the whole community is putting in the effort to keep our beaches pristine,” Klein said.

From her time spent working to support the health of Sengekontacket, Klein said she has learned just how fragile our Island environment is, but also how invested and passionate people are about doing this important work. She highlighted various initiatives out of towns like Edgartown and Oak Bluffs that are banning nips in order to remove those tiny, pernicious plastics from our wastestream. 

“This nip ban is going to be huge. They’re such a big percent of what we pick up along the side of the roads, on beaches, in the beach grass, it’s crazy,” Klein said. 

She opened up one trash bag to reveal dozens of degraded nip bottles and hundreds of waterlogged cigarette butts. “This right here, if you just take one look in there, that says a whole lot about the problems we face with pollution,” Klein said. “And that was only from about one hour of looking.”

A.J. Lodges of Fine Fettle told The Times, while he was picking up litter alongside the bike path adjacent to Sengekontacket, that he appreciates Island nonprofits organizing events like this, and is always blown away by how many people show up to help. 

“These beaches are pretty clean, but that’s just because people take the time out of their day,” Lodges said. “If people weren’t so active out here, just imagine how much trash would pile up — this does make a huge difference.”

M.V. Museum executive director Heather Seger said she hopes this will be the first Earth Day festival of many on the museum campus. With such a strong attendance, Seger said, she is confident this special event will only continue to grow each year. “It was great; nonprofits set up tables with all kinds of stuff. Some had elaborate displays, some had tables with information that people could take away with them, and some tables had activities that kids and families could do,” Seger said. “We even had a scavenger hunt around the museum where you could learn where in our permanent collection there are historical examples of conservation and environmentalism movements on the Island.”

Although Seger said the museum is not a dedicated conservation or preservation organization in the way VCS or the Friends of Sengekontacket are, it does play an important role in grounding people in the historical space of past local environmental movements. 

“This all helps people think about where we are today, and where we want to be in the future,” Seger said. 

Seger stressed the importance of recognizing the original and present stewards of Martha’s Vineyard, the Wampanoag Tribe, and thanked Adriana Ignacio of the Aquinnah Cultural Center, along with the Black Brook Singers. Ignacio presented an indigenous land acknowledgement, and the Black Brook Singers performed in the museum courtyard. 

Seger said one museum exhibit that works in the environmentalism space is a collaboration between Vineyard artist Marion Wilson, executive director of the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group Emma Green-Beach, and Carole Vandal of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah). “These women all worked to put together this collaborative exhibit that uses art as a way of sharing some really interesting scientific facts about the lagoon and the shellfish of the lagoon, along with the history of different women’s relationships with the water,” Seger explained.

For some folks who visited the museum for the beach cleanup afterparty, it was their first time on the campus. “That’s exciting for me,” Seger said. “There are all these wonderful ways we can draw people up here and share this space with the Island, and this event was a great way to showcase that unique ability.”