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The 2017 Mississippi Coastal Cleanup brought in more than 1,700 volunteers to help pick up trash at 40 locations along the coastline. Although the event is typically held in October each year, the cleanup was pushed back to November 18th due to Hurricane Nate.
Volunteers of all ages picked up more than 13 tons of trash along 200 miles of the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Out of all the trash collected, 77% of it was plastic. And the most common item picked up- cigarette butts. Over 48,000 cigarette butts were collected with over 12,000 food wrappers coming in second.
The cleanup is a partnership between the Mississippi State University Extension Service and the Mississippi Debris Task Force. It is a part of the International Coastal Cleanup and is one of the largest volunteer efforts in all of Mississippi. Since 1988, thousands of volunteers gather in the fall to remove millions of pounds of trash from Mississippi’s coastline, waterways, and barrier islands. Additionally, these volunteers help collect data that are used to categorize the major sources of marine debris entering the coastal environment.
Eric Sparks, Assistant Extension Professor at Mississippi State University, says the marine debris problem in our area is pretty bad. “You definitely won’t have a problem going out to our beaches and finding trash”, said Sparks. “We’re working on research trying to figure out how to compare our problem to different areas, but it doesn’t take a hard look to see the issue”, he said.
However, we can help prevent this problem in a numerous amount of ways. Sparks suggests by first reducing your usage of single-use items such as straws, plastic cups and instead using items like re-usable water bottles. Also, ensuring your items won’t get blown away by the wind can help.
“We’re working on educating young students by going to different schools throughout the year and teaching them to leave the beach the way you found it”, he said. “Our long-term goal is to have these cleanup events and there’s nothing to pick up”, said Sparks.
Local sponsors have also worked to make the event a success. Chevron, Sparks said, played a huge role in the event by providing a monetary donation for event supplies and by sponsoring its own clean up site. Other sponsors include the U.S. Department of Commerce National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Sea Grant of Mississippi/Alabama, The Shed, Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality and more.
The Mississippi Coastal Cleanup will be hosting a July 5th cleanup to battle all the firework debris that litters our beach and waterways after the night of July 4th festivities. In the long term, Mississippi State University Extension Service aims to sponsor additional smaller cleanups throughout the year. Sparks said this could allow for more people to get involved and will help raise awareness of the impact of trash on the environment. The 30th Annual Mississippi Coastal Cleanup will take place Saturday, October 20th, 2018. More information on the registration of July 5th’s cleanup will be posted at a later time, but interested participants can stay tuned on their site at mscoastalcleanup.org.