The Blog Aquatic » volunteers News, opinions, photos and facts from Ocean Conservancy Wed, 13 Aug 2014 13:00:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Volunteers Help Protect Baby Sea Turtles From Ocean Trash Wed, 01 May 2013 12:30:39 +0000 Allison Schutes baby sea turtle heads toward the surf


Starting today, hundreds of volunteers will begin heading to the beach every morning just before sunrise in search of tracks left by some exciting visitors: female sea turtles coming ashore under the cloak of darkness to lay their eggs.

May 1 marks the start of sea turtle nesting season in the southeast United States; it’s the only time of year when these animals return to dry sand after spending almost their entire lives in the ocean. Female sea turtles tend to return to the same stretch of beach where they hatched to lay their own eggs. After hatching, baby sea turtles must dig their way out of the sand and sprint to the surf while avoiding predators ranging from foxes and raccoons to sea birds and ghost crabs.

The dedicated volunteers who walk these beaches every morning look for signs of new sea turtle nests so that they can monitor and protect the nest sites and track how many turtles hatch. Yet on most walks, these volunteers find more trash on the beach than sea turtle tracks.

While many man-made obstacles—from coastal development and artificial lighting to fishing and hunting—threaten sea turtles, trash is one threat that travels great distances and is present both on land and in the ocean. It is also entirely preventable.

We know that when trash items reach our ocean, they pose a severe ingestion risk for sea turtles, especially given the close resemblance of trash items like floating plastic grocery bags to a sea turtle’s favorite food: jellyfish. However, we don’t know much about the types of interactions sea turtles have with trash while coming ashore to nest.

Unfortunately, much of what we know about the interaction between sea turtles and trash is the result of studying dead and stranded sea turtles. In order to take a more proactive approach to learning about the potential for interaction between nesting sea turtles and trash, Ocean Conservancy is teaming up with the dedicated volunteers of the Wrightsville Beach Sea Turtle Project to pilot a new initiative.

Many of these volunteers already pick up trash on their morning turtle walks and even report what they find to Wrightsville Beach Keep It Clean. This season, volunteers will be equipped with an Ocean Conservancy data card for their sunrise turtle walks. The data card will help keep track of the individual trash items collected while patrolling for turtle tracks.

Once we receive these reports about turtle nests and trash, we can overlay the two data layers and start to learn more about the potential interaction turtles have with trash when they come ashore to nest. As we begin to learn more about stretches of beach more likely than others to yield trash-turtle interactions, we can implement mitigation strategies appropriate for that particular municipality or beach community. We are very excited to get this new initiative going and look forward to expanding this project along the East Coast.

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Restoring Mobile Bay with 600 of our closest friends Thu, 11 Apr 2013 21:33:17 +0000 Kara Lankford

Credit: Erika Nortemann/TNC

Last weekend my coworkers and I had the unique opportunity to get our feet wet in Mobile Bay and help our partners build a living shoreline. This amazing restoration project took place at Pelican Point near Fairhope, Alabama. Over 600 volunteers, including 300 airmen from Keesler Air Force Base, turned out early Saturday morning to help construct what in a few years will become an oyster reef teeming with life.

A living shoreline is an innovative approach to protecting an eroding shoreline, as well as creating habitat for the creatures that live in the bay. The Pelican Point living shoreline was created using structures called “oyster castles,” which are made up of interlocking concrete blocks. These concrete blocks weigh about 35 pounds each, so volunteers not only got to participate in building a reef, they also got a great workout!

A total of four oyster reefs will be built with 20,500 of these blocks when the project is complete. These four reefs will protect 329 feet of natural shoreline by helping to minimize erosion from boat wakes and strong waves generated by storms. Baby oysters, also known as spat, will attach to almost any hard substrate. These oyster castles will soon serve as a home for thousands of tiny oysters, and the reef will begin to come alive with all manner of marine life. Oysters are also a great way to improve water quality. Just one of these small bivalves has the ability to filter up to 50 gallons of water per day.

This restoration project is part of the 100-1000 Restore Coastal Alabama initiative. In the wake of the BP oil disaster and led in part by our own Bethany Kraft, the Alabama Coastal Foundation, the Nature Conservancy, Mobile Baykeeper, and the Ocean Foundation came together to launch the 100-100 Restore Coastal Alabama partnership as a first step in restoring the Alabama coast. The initiative will build 100 miles of oyster reefs and living shorelines to promote the growth of 1,000 acres of coastal marsh and seagrass beds. The Pelican Point project puts the 100-1000 initiative over the two mile mark for oyster reef restoration.

Ocean Conservancy would like to send out a big high five to the organizers of the Pelican Point restoration project, as well as to all the volunteers, military personal, contractors and organizations who participated. Keep up the great work, and we look forward to the next 100-1000 project!

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Thank You for Changing the World One Bag, Butt and Bottle at a Time Sun, 16 Sep 2012 14:00:57 +0000 Nick Mallos

Celebrating a successful Cleanup in South Africa. Credit: Thomene Dilley

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  – Margaret Mead

Well…a group of 600,000 people is not exactly small, but the dedication and commitment displayed by International Coastal Cleanup volunteers is changing the world in a very meaningful way. Once again I am awed and inspired by the incredible efforts put forth by ordinary citizens to rid beaches and waterways around the world of trash; culminating in a healthier, more resilient ocean.

‘Success’ is often the term used by organizers and volunteers alike following the International Coastal Cleanup, but personally I find this term to be an interesting –perhaps even perverse—way to define a Cleanup event.  Removing millions of pounds of trash from beaches and waterways is unquestionably cause for celebration, but actual success will be the day when we no longer need the Cleanup because we’ve stopped trash from occurring in the first place.

Regardless of how you define the Cleanup though, there can be no dispute over what to call the volunteer effort:  remarkable and unparalleled. Whether you picked up a single bottle or hauled a 500-pound fishing net off a beach yesterday, thank you for participating in the International Coastal Cleanup. Without the extraordinary contributions from Cleanup Coordinators and Volunteers around the world, the International Coastal Cleanup would not exist—You are the Cleanup.

Trash is a preventable, human-generated problem that affects our ocean. And while at times trash may seem like an insurmountable problem, incremental steps, when added collectively, make a huge difference for our ocean. No other event wields the power of collective action quite like the International Coastal Cleanup; and it’s for this reason I know we will continue to reduce trash on our beaches and in our ocean, and someday realize trash free seas.

Our beaches and coasts need you. Thankfully, you never let them down.


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5 Questions with International Coastal Cleanup Coordinator Hilberto Riverol of Belize Sat, 15 Sep 2012 16:00:38 +0000 Catherine Fox

Hilberto Riverol of The Scout Association of Belize has coordinated the International Coastal Cleanup for his country over the past 20 years, teaching scouts how they can help keep the ocean clean and healthy. Credit: John Carrillo.

Since 1911,  The Scout Association of Belize has taught children to protect and care for the environment on a daily basis. As it happens, their small Central American country on the Caribbean is a rugged place of great natural beauty. Coastal waters host extraordinary marine life, especially along the world’s second largest barrier reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

So back in 1992 when Hilberto Riverol, national scout executive with the association, heard that the Ramada Hotel in Belize City was gathering volunteers for the country’s first International Coastal Cleanup, he signed up.  Some 600 participants including the scouts removed more than three tons of trash from approximately 18 miles of the coast.

The next year—and every year since—the association has embraced the role of organizing the event under Hilberto’s devoted leadership as Belize coordinator. We asked him to share his perspective on 20 years of Cleanup events.

1. What drew the Scout Association of Belize to participate in the Cleanup?

Since our founding, scouts have made a significant contribution to environmental causes.

Scouts learn firsthand what’s trashing the ocean when they record everything they find during the International Coastal Cleanup. Credit: Jose Riverol.

Participating in the Cleanup, these boys and girls have learned that there are many problems affecting marine life. Gathering data makes scouts even more aware of the importance of keeping our shoreline clean. They see the danger trash causes when carelessly disposed of in our ocean.

2. What changes and growth have you seen over 20 years?

From a small group of volunteers back in 1990, the Cleanup in Belize has grown over the years. Support from the business community has been consistent. The donation of garbage bags, gloves, rakes, promotional material and radio and television advertisements goes a long way and is very important in helping to cover the overall cost of organizing and holding the event.

The volunteers, who come from all walks of life, seem to be more aware of problems posed by marine debris; as a result, there is a stronger desire to get involved in the Cleanup. (There has also been an increase in recycling in Belize, particularly plastic, paper and glass bottles).

Now we have the participation of many youth and environmental groups, as well as secondary school students. In fact, one secondary school in Belize City makes it mandatory that the entire school of 400+ students must participate each year. The data they collect form part of their school curriculum.

3. Do you have a favorite story from the Cleanup?

No, because each year of organizing and participating in the Cleanup is a different experience. We find everything from money and condoms to dead fish and sea creatures trapped in nets. The latter is what motivates the hundreds of volunteers to come out year after year.

4. What inspires you to support the Cleanup year after year?

If you can make a change, no matter how small it may be, to protect marine life and have cleaner beaches for everyone to enjoy, this is the motive to keep the International Coastal Cleanup alive for years to come.

My favorite quote is from the founder of the scout movement, Lord Baden-Powell:

“Most of us who have been sowing the seed will not, in the nature of things, be here to see the harvest; but we may well feel thankful, indeed jubilant, that our crop is already so well advanced…”

5. What has impressed you most about the International Coastal Cleanup experience?

I believe that the International Coastal Cleanup is of great value to me—and to the thousands of volunteers who have participated over the years—because it demonstrates what can be accomplished by giving just a few hours one day each year.

It gives us all the opportunity to take back from our environment and nature what has been carelessly put there. And it fills us all with pride knowing that we indeed care for and look after nature, particularly marine life and our ocean. The satisfaction of knowing that so many people care for our ocean is engraved deeply in my heart.

Did you participate in a Cleanup event today? Share your stories in the comments section! And remember, it’s never too late to head outside and clean up trash in your neighborhood!

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International Coastal Cleanup Coordinators Lead and Inspire Volunteers for Trash Free Seas Fri, 31 Aug 2012 14:27:50 +0000 Catherine Fox

Yoshiko Ohkura (center) of JEAN (Japan Environmental Action Network) cleans a beach at Gamo Tidal Flat. Credit: Nick Mallos.

How much are some people willing to give to solve the problem of ocean trash? In the case of the amazing partners who organize the International Coastal Cleanup across entire countries and U.S. states, the answer is: everything they have.

We call them the “sea stars of the Cleanup.” Meet just two, Azusa Kojima and Yoshiko Ohkura from JEAN (Japan Environmental Action Network).

Like their fellow coordinators around the world, they manage a host of responsibilities, including:

  • identifying sites on the water to be cleaned and overseeing those sites;
  • educating the public and rallying a volunteer network;
  • engaging reporters from radio, television, newspapers and online news sources;
  • arranging cleanup day logistics; and
  • ensuring that data collected by volunteers reaches Ocean Conservancy for publication in the annual Ocean Trash Index.

JEAN’s efforts on behalf of the Cleanup for more than 20 years are legion. Now the recognized marine debris leader in Japan, JEAN unified existing cleanup efforts and inspired more participation by educating the public about the dangers of ocean trash. From 800 volunteers at 80 sites in 1990, JEAN has grown the Cleanup exponentially, with more than 22,000 volunteers at 234 sites in the peak year to date.

And now JEAN is on the frontline addressing debris from the 2011 tsunami. Representatives from JEAN including Azusa and Yoshiko traveled to Oregon in July; they came to participate in a workshop to plan for the arrival of tsumani debris on the West Coast.

Additional International Coastal Cleanup coordinators attending included Patrick Chandler of the Center for Alaskan Coastal Studies; Eben Schwartz of the California Coastal Commission; Chris Woolaway (who collaborates with Keep the Hawaiian Islands Beautiful and Friends of Honolulu Parks and Recreation);  Briana Goodwin of Stop Oregon Litter and Vandalism (SOLVE); and Joan Hauser-Crowe of Oregon.

“We have engaged our network of Cleanup coordinators every year for the Cleanup, and once again, they are sharing their connections, research and ideas to help prepare for what may come,” says Dave Pittenger, director of Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas program.

It’s easy to see that the ripple effect carries the vision of trash free seas from coordinator to coordinator, and from lakes and rivers to the ocean’s shores. That’s why we salute each and every one of them.

International Coastal Cleanup Associate Director Sonya Besteiro (second from left) joined many Cleanup coordinators at the 5th International Marine Debris Conference including Kanyarat Kosavisutte, Thailand; Muntasir Mamun, Bangladesh; Katie Register, Virginia; and Liza Gonzalez, Nicaragua.

Sonya Besteiro, who works with coordinators year-round as associate director of the Cleanup, says, “The International Coastal Cleanup would never have grown into the world’s largest volunteer effort for ocean health without all the dedicated people who make it happen in their corner of the world.”

Learn more about what goes on behind the scenes at the Cleanup. And ask yourself, “How much am I willing to give?” Consider spending a few hours pitching in and picking up at an event near you!

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Monitoring California’s Ocean Playgrounds Mon, 23 Jul 2012 19:20:27 +0000 Jennifer Savage

An MPA Watch volunteer records action happening within the marine protected area. Credit: Heal the Bay

“The morning clouds quickly broke…”

It’s no surprise that California’s new ocean parks protect vital marine wildlife and habitat – that’s what they’re designed to do. The new system of underwater protected areas is also intended to improve recreational and study opportunities.  Now an innovative volunteer partnership confirms that from Los Angeles to the Central Coast, California’s Marine Protected Areas are providing a popular playground for surfing, swimming, scuba diving and other beach activities. As Center for a Blue Economy Director Jason Scorse pointed out recently, this access to natural beauty is also one of California’s greatest economic strengths.

“Once we rounded Point Vicente, there was a surprising amount of action on the water. Within our monitoring transect we spotted passenger boats underway and several urchin fishing boats anchored outside of the MPAs, along the edge of the ever-expanding kelp paddys…”

Over a 15-month span, about 200 volunteers with the Monterey, California-based organization Otter Project compiled over 2,000 reports assessing coastal use from Año Nuevo to San Luis Obispo, County. Citizen volunteer monitors observed that the vast majority of beach goers are appreciating and preserving the biodiversity of the protected areas. The monitoring project was inspired by the implementation of California’s Marine Life Protection Act, a 1999 law calling for the redesign of the state’s marine protected areas. While nearly all the observations are made from land, some volunteers take to the sea, as well.

“On our return trip back through the MPAs, we sighted a pod of bottlenose dolphins, a sun bathing mola mola…”

In June, the Fish & Game Commission adopted the last portion of the statewide network, making California the first state in the nation to have such comprehensive ocean protection. By joining together, volunteer monitors help ensure that human uses within the individual ocean parks are documented, building a multipurpose data bank to inform future management.

“On this bright, sunny, winter morning with little swell or wind to speak of, we headed due west… Despite the near perfect conditions, all was quiet in the reserve…” 

Related projects continue on the South Coast as well.

Heal the Bay kicked off an MPA Watch pilot program last year in Malibu, then expanded it to Palos Verdes this past spring. Similarly Santa Monica Baykeeper  runs a concurrent MPA Watch program. Volunteers are trained to observe and collect unbiased data on coastal and marine resource use, then put that training to use in the field, combining a love of the beach and ocean with a desire to collect valuable scientific data. Southern California residents interested in getting involved can attend a training workshop on Tuesday, July 24 at 6 p.m. or Saturday, July 28 at 10 a.m.

Santa Barbara Coastkeeper will also hold trainings. Call (805) 563-3377 for more information.

Data from the surveys is available online in spreadsheets and maps through The Otter Project.

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