It was a summer afternoon in mid-October and the sand was dotted with beachgoers trying to get in the last glares of sun before the permanent chill of autumn set it. Over in the 31st Street vicinity, however, there was a different flurry of activity. With the King Neptune statue looming in the background, an important effort was underway on the beach below.
“Plastic shopping bag!”
“I found a water bottle!”
Excited voices of 160 elementary, middle and high schools students could be heard as they were combing the beach looking for trash to pick up from the sand.
“This is part of an international event called International Coastal Clean Up,” explained Katie Register, director of Clean Virginia Waterways. “We do statewide cleanups of rivers and beaches. Today, we’ll break the students into groups and they’ll go out to different places on the boardwalk and beach and pick up litter and trash.”
Fifth-grade students from Seatack, Kingston, Alanton and Cooke elementary schools joined the First Colonial High School Surfrider Youth Club and several schools from the Richmond area for the cleanup. Everyone gathered inside 31st Street Park for a briefing, team assignments and a pair of gloves to wear for the dirty work ahead.
Heather Brooks, gifted resource teacher at Cooke Elementary School, said that the cleanup was also part of a larger research project. “Clean Virginia Waterways participates in an international database. So as we’re cleaning up the beach, we’re collecting data on the types of items that we clean up, so we will be able to submit that information.”
The database is maintained by Ocean Conservancy, an organization committed to creating trash-free seas. In 2015, the International Coastal Cleanup resulted in 18 million pounds of trash removed from beaches and waterways around the world. The database shows that plastic debris is a growing concern in the marine environment.
As students found trash items on the beach, they would identify, document and throw them into a bucket for disposal.
“It is such a memorable life-changing event, participating with the Virginia Waterways Cleanup as it promotes a sustainability service learning to engage and empower students to be global citizens to help keep our oceans and watershed healthy,” said Marie Culver, a gifted resource teacher at Seatack Elementary School. “To hear the natural awe and delight of all of the elementary, middle and high school students as one environmental team is truly breathtaking with sharing a common passion.”
That passion was summed up by Robin, a fifth grade Seatack student. “I’m out here because I wanted to clean up the beach, because the beach can affect the ocean and I don’t want to see any sea animals get hurt or die.”