Coastal Cleanup underscores efforts to protect environment

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The annual International Coastal Cleanup Day, organized by state environmental advocacy group Save the Bay, once again brought thousands of volunteers to shorelines in Rhode Island and around the world to remove tens of thousands of pounds of trash from beaches and green space.

Although the numbers for this past weekend haven’t yet been calculated, last year in Warwick alone the cleanup brought out 365 people, who helped pick up 1,787 pounds of garbage along five miles of coastline.

This Saturday at Chepiwanoxet Point, a handful of volunteers alone were able to remove more than 100 pounds of plastic debris, glass shards, cigarette butts, Styrofoam and every kind of refuse in between including what appeared to be a full diaper (what it was full of, however, was not investigated).

“Once you start picking things up, you just can’t stop,” said volunteer Jim DeAmbrosia as he scoured a grassy hill behind a bench with his trusty pair of kitchen tongs in hand – far superior, in his mind, to any other type of trash picking device.

Along the rocky beach, three-year-old Sophie Murphy does her part, helping pick up fishing line and other trash pieces while her mother, Xenia, held open a trash bag for her. Along with her husband and Save the Bay volunteer, Darren, the family has been leading and contributing to beach cleanups in Rhode Island for many years.

While the beach cleanups represent a helpful reminder that every individual, literally, can make a noticeable difference for their community – 11 cleanups that occurred in Warwick throughout the summer prior to the international cleanup netted 2,361 pounds (over a ton) of garbage removed – it also represents a microcosm of the state’s larger efforts to reduce the negative effects that humans are contributing to on coastal communities, and the world at large.

“Narragansett Bay is already seeing and feeling the effects of climate change,” said Topher Hamblett, Director of Advocacy for Save the Bay. “Sea levels are rising. Our salt marshes are drowning in place because of sea level rise. Waters are warming, species are changing. It’s all happening very fast.”

Hamblett said that Save the Bay is working with scientist groups and institutions like Brown University and the University of Rhode Island to try to understand what effects climate change is having on coastal communities across the state and develop strategies to deal with those effects.

Fittingly, just one day prior to the International Coastal Cleanup, Governor Gina Raimondo held an event at the State House announcing that she would sign an executive order that created a Chief Resiliency Officer position, whose sole job was to develop a statewide action plan to address the effects of climate change by July 1, 2018.

As part of developing this plan, the new Chief Resiliency Officer, Sean O’Rourke, said that they would be initiating a series of roundtable discussions with environmental advocacy groups an experts. Again, fittingly enough, the first discussions will kick off at Save the Bay’s Providence headquarters on Sept. 27 at 5:30 p.m.

“I'm very proud of Save the Bay,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. “They've become the lead environmental organization over the years in Rhode Island. As we've seen more and more evidence of how pollution and climate change and other stressors hit Narragansett Bay and the oceans, there's Save the Bay doing what's right, leading cleanups and looking for good policies.”

Hamblett praised the proactive efforts from the top levels of Rhode Island Government, most of which came out in support of Raimondo’s executive order on Friday – including Senators Jack Reed and Whitehouse, Congressmen Jim Langevin and David Cicilline and General Treasurer Seth Magaziner.

“Climate change is so serious that we need strong leadership from the governor and from the general assembly,” said Hamblett. “This is the most important issue affecting Rhode Island, Narragansett Bay and the entire coast right now. It's all hands on deck and we need that good leadership from the top.”

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