The International Coastal Cleanup was a success as Mercyhurst students helped to clean two coastal areas in Erie. The International Coastal Cleanup originally started over 30 years ago in Texas when its founders noticed the amount of trash on the beaches. This project now hits home as local college students and residents work to make sure Erie’s coastline stays clean.
Students picked up at least 185 pounds of trash at the East Avenue Boat Launch and Shades Beach, collecting a variety of objects such as cigarette butts, tires and plastics.
While the Mercyhurst community focused primarily on Shades Beach and East Ave, many other areas that are a part of Erie’s coastline were also cleaned up.
The Erie County Planning Department partners with multiple organizations to ensure the cleanliness of the beaches, Mercyhurst being one of them. For many of these projects, the Planning Department recruits site managers and volunteers to take on the coastal cleanup.
The coastal cleanup and county statistics are utilized to support local nature preservation and increased funding for the projects. Some of the data that is used includes how many bags of trash were collected, how many miles of coastline were cleared and the types of particles collected.
Colin Hurley, Executive Director of Community Engagement and Sustainability Manager noted that the cleanup is representative of Mercyhurst due to the project also having been started by a group of women. Mercyhurst also adopted Beach 10 at Presque Isle in the last 10 years to encourage coastal cleanup.
The student body was represented by a variety of people with different majors and backgrounds.
“Some of the students who came to volunteer needed hours for programs,” Hurley said. “The PA program and the honors program were well represented.”
While it was a group of 23 volunteers, Hurley stated that the work was evenly spread out and the areas were cleaned of their trash. It also allowed the students to recognize what types of plastics are found at different coastal access points.
One important thing that was noted at the coastal cleanup was the appreciation of the community. At the East Avenue Boat Launch, fishermen said thank you to the volunteers. The local bait shop also gave the volunteers trash grabbers to make collect trash easier.
“This showed the symbiosis between the environment and the economy,” Hurley said.
Hurley provided students with questions to reflect on as they did the beach cleanup. He hoped that they take notice of topics such as seeing the life cycle of single use plastics and how this might affect their own usage of single use plastics. He encouraged them to then think beyond their own usage and question how these practices can be changed for larger institutions.
Hurley was confident that the beach cleanup will cause students to take a closer look at their own behaviors and how we can be more sustainable. He challenged them to think about how they can change others’ behaviors and/or policies about single use plastics and the coastline and how can students be more informed of what’s occurring in their environment.
Hurley hopes that next years event brings in a similar crowd. “We hope for another strong year in 2022,” Hurley said.
Be sure to check out the Office of Community Engagement to find other volunteer opportunities this year!