Beach in Atlantic City gets a combing

Justin Holland of Delran holds a trash bag for Jordan Beatty of Mantua Township during the cleanup, which was organized by Clean Ocean Action.
Justin Holland of Delran holds a trash bag for Jordan Beatty of Mantua Township during the cleanup, which was organized by Clean Ocean Action. (CURT HUDSON)
Posted: April 29, 2013

ATLANTIC CITY - "Who would leave that on the beach?"

Hector Guerrero was disgusted by what he saw, the 11-year-old evidently recognizing the object. His mother, wearing gloves, picked it up and threw it in a trash bag.

It was a condom.

Aura Alejeria, 36, of Somers Point, wasn't surprised: "Condom" was listed on a sheet on which she catalogued all the trash she had found. She and Hector were searching for debris on a mile stretch of beach Saturday along with about 100 other volunteers.

They came to participate in a broader effort by Clean Ocean Action, a regional environmental group, to sweep the Shore as businesses and tourism officials prepare for the traditional start of the summer season on Memorial Day weekend.

Overall, about 6,500 volunteers trekked through the sand at 65 sites, picking up plastic, cigarette butts, car tires, and anything else that did not belong there.

Different this year

The debris is unpleasant not only for beachgoers, but it also harms marine life and water quality, environmentalists say.

The group has been cleaning up the beaches along the Shore for 28 years. Saturday's effort was the first since Sandy devastated parts of the New Jersey coast.

"Cleaning beaches is a feel-good thing," said Tavia Danch, Clean Ocean's program manager. This year, however, it's become "a sensitive thing," she said, noting that in an earlier cleanup in marshlands, her group found contents of people's homes. "It's a different type of debris," she said.

The volunteers didn't find remnants of Sandy-battered homes Saturday - Atlantic City did not suffer the brunt of the storm - but Sandy influenced their decisions to help.

They included students from KIPP Philadelphia Charter School like 15-year-old Earlie James Jr. "We weren't affected in Philadelphia, but we realize how Superstorm Sandy has had an impact on New Jersey," he said. "That's why we're here today."

Adding up

The beach sweepers picked up mostly plastic: No surprise, considering disposable plastic accounted for 83 percent of the 350,000 pieces of debris Clean Ocean catalogued in 2012.

Alejeria has vacationed with her family at the Shore for 15 years. She wants the beaches to be clean; she didn't realize how messy they were until she started combing through the sand Saturday for Styrofoam, soda cans, and chicken bones.

To be sure, Alejeria was expecting a lot worse, perhaps with good reason: Last year, volunteers organized by Clean Ocean collected nearly 49,362 cigarette butts, 33,162 candy or food wrappers, as well as the occasional Christmas lights and vampire teeth, among other things.

"I guess it's not as bad now because there are not a lot of people out here," Alejeria said.

Ron Calhoun, 29, of Spring Lake Heights, who had made two pre-Sandy beach sweeps, said that he found less trash post-Sandy. In particular, he didn't see nearly as many cigarette butts as he had in previous cleanups.

Picking up trash obviously is good for the environment, he said, but participating in the beach sweep also helps increase awareness.

Now if he sees someone smoking on the beach, he'll say: "Don't flick that butt out there."


Contact Andrew Seidman at 856-779-3846, aseidman@phillynews.com,

or follow on Twitter @AndrewSeidman.

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