Litter and Longboards: How Surfing is Helping Save our Beaches

Madison Van Althuis, Contributing Writer

On Sunday, September 26, Clean Ocean Action (COA) held their fourth annual Surfing Open at Seven Presidents Oceanfront Park in Long Branch, NJ. This competition featured nine different age groups, with members ranging from ages 7 to 60 years old. Despite the pandemic, the open had a great turnout, with the day seeing some good waves and some great excitement. 

But this surfing open wasn’t just about hanging ten. COA used their surfing open to raise funds for the various programs that they hold throughout the year, namely, their famous beach sweeps. 

Last year, despite the pandemic, their surfing open helped COA recruit the help of approximately 4,000 volunteers to clean New Jersey beaches at 70 different locations. These volunteers collected 185,221 pieces of debris in a matter of a single day. Clean Ocean Action is hoping that this year’s open will reap a similar outpouring of volunteers for their sweep.

COA’s beach sweeps are incredibly important to the environment. First held in 1985, these now semi-annual sweeps have certainly helped New Jersey (once known as the ocean-dumping capital of the nation) clean up their act. 

This first sweep, 36 years ago, took place in Sandy Hook, NJ and had only 75 volunteers. Now, decades later, the program estimates that it has had a total of 147,860 volunteers dedicated to keeping the beaches clean.

On top of this, COA estimates that over the years they have removed 7,424,453 pieces of debris from beaches in both New York and New Jersey. Now how, you may ask, do they have such a specific number? It is garbage after all. Most people don’t count trash as they clean it up.

Well, COA volunteers pick up garbage a little differently. Every volunteer who attends a beach sweep is given a data card. They are then instructed to keep track of the different amounts and forms of trash that they pick up from the beaches. This data is compiled into reports and turned over to the Ocean Conservancy in DC. All this information is added to their database and used to track marine debris trends in order to better combat littering and waste. 

The compiled data from the 2020 beach sweep revealed that volunteers picked up 9,236 foam pieces; 10,601 straws/stirrers; 17,555 plastic bags; 21,741 cap/lids; and 32,190 plastic pieces, all in just one day of volunteering.

This data collected from these beach sweeps is beneficial because it helps governments and organizations pass regulations to better protect our planet and find ways to decrease debris output. 

Regulations to prevent waste are vital because this litter is so dangerous to the environment, and it never just disappears. Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has revealed that plastic bags take an estimated 10 to 20 years to decompose. Foam cups commonly take 50 years to break down. Plastic beverage holders take approximately  400 years to decompose properly, while plastic bottles can take 450 years to break down. 

We have one earth. And this data clearly shows that we’re currently not taking very good care of it. This marine debris is so harmful that it causes over one million marine animals to die every year (UNESCO). These dangerous materials are compromising the marine ecosystem, and effectively, our whole planet. 

Nonprofits like the COA are doing incredible work to mitigate the damage that all this litter has been doing to our planet. Programs like their beach sweeps have made huge impacts on affected areas, and they are largely reliant on the help of donors and fundraisers such as their most recent surfing open. 

Events like the surfing open are a great way for COA to spread the word about the wonderful work that they, while effectively allowing them to raise funds to continue cleaning up the coast. They are always taking volunteers and their various programs are a great way for citizens to take action for our planet. As their website states: “COA uses research, education, and citizen action to unite and empower people to protect the ocean.”

More information about everything that the COA does, along with statistics from all previous beach sweeps can be found at their website