Exeter assists in worldwide coastal cleanup day
September 28, 2006
Exeter students and faculty recently joined in the International Coastal Cleanup project, a global effort involving volunteers from over 90 countries. Sponsored by the Blue Ocean Society, the project's objective is to clean debris from coastal waterways around the globe.
Jennifer Wilhelm, sustainability coordinator at Exeter, sees this program as key to cleaning the oceans. "This project lets our students and other members of the community learn firsthand about the health of our oceans," says Wilhelm. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates there are 46,000 pieces of marine debris for every square mile of all the world's oceans. Wilhelm continues, "In simple terms UNEP's figures mean that three times as much debris goes into the world's oceans as the weight of fish caught."
Exeter's participants in the coastal cleanup project worked along the banks of the Bellamy and Exeter Rivers. "Studies show that nearly four-fifths of ocean debris has been carried from land through storm drains or down rivers," says Wilhelm.
The debris found by the Exeter volunteers sounds like leftovers from a large party – bags, bottles, cans and eating utensils. Perhaps more striking are the amounts: 67 food wrappers, 212 pieces of glass, 30 pieces of Styrofoam and seven segments of rope. For Samantha, an upper, it was the difficulty of removing large debris from the riverbed that really hit home. "I found a 25-pound tire in the muck, and, having no other way to carry it, proceeded to sling it over my shoulder and walk about half a mile in the sand," she said. "Nick [class of '07] was with me much of the time, practicing his pole-vaulting skills with an eight-foot PVC pipe. We all came back smelling like salt and covered in grime. My shorts still reek like mildew....and I'm very proud, too!"
For Nick, who takes the time to pick up trash every day, the cleanup day was a chance to feel part of something much larger. "I pick up trash when I'm walking along the path to class, but to be able to set aside a chunk of time for a location that truly needs it is a much more rewarding experience," Nick says. "When you're sharing that time with people who feel the same way, you feel even better about what you're doing. I'd do it again in a heartbeat," he adds.
David Weber, a member of the English department who accompanied the students, says: "Outings like this don't save the world – their scale is too small; but, they help keep the participants centered and grounded. In weather like we had – bright sunshine, with birds and turtles as spectators of our efforts – it's also just a plain physical pleasure to be out there, all the more so to do something that, small scale or not, feels useful." Mark Trafton, instructor of modern languages and an adviser to the group, also accompanied the students.
As a follow-up to the one-day coastal cleanup event, Weber took another group of students to the Exeter River in canoes. They found more debris, no surprise. Exeter students and faculty continue to see coastal cleanup as a yearlong, lifelong venture.