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News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in Compass, September 13, 2012
Volunteers needed to clean local beaches

The Marine Environmental Research Institute invites the public to participate in the Maine Coastal Program’s 2012 Coastweek Clean Up by helping to remove debris from a local beach, according to a press release.

On Saturday, September 22, the RV MERI will carry a clean-up team to remove beach debris to an island in Blue Hill Bay. The boat departs Naskeag Point in Brooklin at 10 a.m., returning at 2 p.m. If you would like to participate, please reserve a place on the boat by calling education director Martha Bell at 374-2135 or emailing her at mbell@meriresearch.org. Seats are limited and pre-registration is essential.

Held every September, this is the largest single volunteer event in Maine and the data gathered is shared with the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Clean Up Program.

In August MERI began clean up activities early on an island in Jericho Bay. In just four hours three staff members and six interns gathered fifteen 16-gallon bags of trash. Plastic debris was the major offender by an overwhelming margin. Topping the list were 243 Styrofoam lobster buoys and 204 pieces of synthetic rope. The haul also included 44 shotgun shells, 13 balloons, 27 bleach containers and plenty of food wrappers, pieces of Styrofoam and bait containers, 57 plastic beverage bottles and 89 plastic bags.

All this plastic is of increasing concern: “We could have worked from dawn to dusk and still not collected all the plastic items littering the shoreline—plastic debris coming from many sources and in all sizes and shapes,” said Bell.

Plastic dumping represents a special threat to the marine environment. Plastics break down through sunlight, wind and wave action into minute particles often not visible to the human eye but easily ingested by marine life from the tiniest krill to top predators like harbor seals and larger marine mammals. To make matters worse, these microscopic plastic particles readily adsorb toxic organic pollutant like flame-retardants, PCBs, anti-microbials and plasticizers in the ocean, so that they too find their way into the ocean food supply.

Increased concern about microplastics inspired MERI to launch the first microplastics study on the Maine coast. During the August clean up, the coastal monitoring team seized the opportunity to measure the distribution of microplastics at select points along the shoreline. Finding microplastics in Maine waters is deeply troubling, according to MERI Director Dr. Susan Shaw: “Microplastics have an invisible toxic effect which is deeply troubling. Plastics themselves inherently contain chemicals but in the ocean, microplastics sponge up all the contaminants already in the sea and concentrate them up to a thousand times. It is these chemicals that leach out into the tissues of fish and all marine creatures. If they are in the marine food web then we are ingesting them too.”