The impact of Hurricane Sandy was very evident in the data this year, according to Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action.
In 2013, about 6,600 volunteers in 70 New Jersey coastal communities collected, tallied, and removed more than 325,000 pieces of debris, including a significant amount of construction-type material, Zipf said. About 13,700 pieces of lumber were collected - twice the amount of what was found in 2012 - making it the largest amount of such debris ever recorded.
"These events are a testament of New Jersey pride and the tenacity of the people to ensure a healthy marine environment for people and marine life," Zipf said.
But the majority of the waste removed last year was disposable plastics. The plastic, including synthetic foam, represented 75.8 percent of the total amount of trash found.
"It's important to think about how one piece of plastic becomes many. It goes into the ocean as one problem and creates many more problems as it breaks down," said Cassandra Ornell, a staff scientist for Clean Ocean Action.
Ornell said that because the threat of plastics in the sea continues to grow, the organization plans to dedicate more time and resources this year to researching plastic under five millimeters, called microplastics, and the potential impact on marine mammals and the state's coast.
Posing as one of the greatest threats to the marine environment, such small plastics cannot be detected by water filtration systems, and can be eaten accidentally by marine life and act as sponges for toxic chemicals, Ornell said.
"Plastic in the marine environment never truly goes away. Instead it breaks into smaller and smaller pieces through wave action and sunlight," Ornell said.
Over the last 29 years, more than 100,000 people have combed the beaches during the twice-annual organized sweeps and collected more than five million items. Each piece has been tabulated into a database that has helped create a "legacy of information." Clean Ocean Action and other organizations have used that information to build better antilitter campaigns and target educational programs for children and adults about protecting the marine environment.
The sweeps are held in the spring and fall, but Zipf notes that the spring event coincides with Earth Month to provide the public with an educational and hands-on activity that can "make a real difference."
Up and down the coast, volunteers on April 26 may report to 70 sites, where they will be given instructions for the day. They are encouraged to bring gloves, dress appropriately for the weather, apply plenty of sunscreen, and wear closed-toed, hard-soled shoes.
More information about exact locations, times, and other details can be found at Clean Ocean Action's registration page at www.cleanoceanaction.org.