By Marjorie Nesin
---- — 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.
Though eight students and the environmental team’s adviser Rebecca Mackay-Smith, an English teacher at the high school, worked the full two scheduled hours to remove the litter, 16 more people contributed to the cleaning effort Saturday morning, recording the garbage collected and clearing the beaches.
“It was nice because it wasn’t just students at Rockport or teachers. It was also random people walking by and they were like ‘hey, can we help out?’,” Waller said.
Middle and High School Principal Philip T. Conrad said the environmental team is all about recycling, reusing materials and reducing negative environmental impacts, and he said the group’s contributions to the school and the community over the years have been “awesome.”
“They’re really a great group. They really work hard,” Conrad said.
The group has planned some fun activities, such an after-school nature hike. But, the students are focusing on some hard-hitting issues, too, such as creating a recycling process at the school.
Conrad credits the school’s recycling efforts thus far to the student group.
“We’ve made some great strides in the last few years and a lot of this has to do with this group, their commitment to our school and also to our community,” Conrad said.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3451, or firstname.lastname@example.org.