Intertidal: Spring cleaning can protect coastal ecosystems

As we head into April and street sweepers clean the sandy edges of streets newly exposed under winter ice, there is much more than sand left. Plastic bags, pet waste, snack wrappers and aluminum cans emerge from melting snow in a less pretty way than “surprise candles” where gems and jewels emerge as your candle melts.

It’s one of the less beautiful aspects of spring in Maine. Much of the debris left behind is unintentional, but rather the result of wind blowing items out of a curbside recycling bin or from the top of a public trash can. Nevertheless, there is a significant amount of cleaning to be done.

The connection to the coast is that without picking up these coastal objects, they end up in coastal waters. This is especially true when the snow melts and the spring rains arrive. The majority of designated coastal cleanup efforts take place in the fall. But, maybe it’s time to introduce a new element of spring cleaning – a coastal spring cleaning, except not on the coast. It’s an opportunity to do preventative cleaning that can have a big impact without having to go to the hard-to-reach places along the coast where it could possibly end up.

“Marine debris” is a catch-all term for objects of all kinds that end up in the water and along the shore. It can come from land or water and take many forms from tiny pieces of plastic called microplastics which have gained a lot of attention lately due to their impacts on wildlife who ingest them and are harmed by them. giant plastic. tubs that blow off a pier or park into the water and turn into floating rafts that can take on live passengers of the plant and animal variety.

Getting to the trash once it’s in the water is complicated and often involves sophisticated machinery or volunteer scuba divers. But, picking it up at the end of your street is quite easy.

In Maine, like other places around the world, there are big coastal cleanups in the fall. The International Coastal Clean-up, a project of the Ocean Conservancy, a DC-based nonprofit where I worked for several years, is a global effort that takes place every September. Maine goes one step further and devotes an entire week to the effort called “Coast Week”.

Doing a cleanup like this in the fall is kind of a bookend for the summer and a way to tidy up after a lot of activity on the coast. Maine’s efforts, as well as international efforts, involve armies of volunteers, including schools and community groups making a big difference.

There is more information on these two cleanups at and Many local organizations also prioritize clean shorelines and waters, such as the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA), Friends of Casco Bay (FOCB), and OceansWide. These are all great places to tune in to find out how you can get involved.

In the meantime, while you’re doing yard work in the spring or maybe just strolling down your street, take the time to pick up that litter you notice every time you pass by. Or, if you’re a jogger, join Sweden’s latest trend, ‘plogging’. It’s a combination of “jogging” and the Swedish expression “ploka upp”, which means “to pick up”. There’s even a website,, where you can connect with other bloggers around the world.

So, good plogging and “coastal” cleaning this spring. A little effort makes a big difference to shorelines and nearby waters.

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