ROCKPORT — Visitors to Rockport’s downtown will find Front and Back beaches, with their blankets of sand, clear of cigarette butts, plastic wrappers and empty bottles.
The litterless sand, courtesy of a group of Rockport High School students, was picked clean over a 2-hour period. The teens collected 60 pounds, or about seven large garbage bags full, of refuse. Empty wrappers that once flapped in the breeze are gone, bottles that lolled at the water’s edge cleared away, and cigarette butts picked from the sand where they were once half-buried.
Rockport High senior Renee Waller, president of the school’s Environmental Action Team, organized the students’ participation last Saturday in the 25-year-old Coastsweep program, a worldwide beach clean-up effort, organized by the Urban Harbors Institute at University of Massachusetts Boston.
“It’s an organization and they’re so happy you’re doing it. You choose a day and they just give you the stuff you need,” Waller said.
The Environmental Action Team has participated each year since 2009, scouring Rockport’s beaches that are most sorely in need. Last year students cleaned Cape Hedge and Long beaches.
Coastsweep provides garbage bags, gloves, data cards and pencils each year.
The Urban Harbors Institute will collect the Rockport students’ data and combine it with other data statewide, then use all the compiled information to study regional epidemics of specific types of litter. The data will also be used to create education and policy initiatives to help reduce marine debris.
“It’s not just collecting trash. You have to have someone writing down and tallying what you have,” Waller said. “There’s diapers and condoms — it can get pretty grimy — but it’s interesting what you find.”
But, Waller said the strangest item the group logged was less “grimy” than just plain weird. One of the crew found a head of cabbage rolling around in the sand.