"Two more beer cans."
"That's 3, so far"
These weren't a couple of college kids taking stock after a frat party. Instead, Sandra Saunders and Fred Griffith talleyed the take of litter they found on the shore of Greenwich Cove by the EG Town Dock and Scalloptown Park and Wildlife Refuge as part of the annual Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup last Saturday.
For the past five years, Saunders, a former URI public health and dental hygiene professor, and Griffith, a neurologist, recruited volunteers to collect hundreds of pounds of trash from among the dried seaweed and shore grass and compile information on the type of debris they encountered. They then would hand off the garbage to the EG transfer station and send the information about the amount and types of debris to the Audubon Society for entry into a database. The database tracks trends of trash around the globe.
Per the Rhode Island Audubon Society's media guide:
"Ocean Conservancy uses the data collected on the cleanup to produce an annual country-by-country, state-by-state index of the problem of marine debris. Audubon Society of Rhode Island has led the International Coastal Cleanup for Rhode Island since 1985."
What Saunders and Griffith discovered this year is pretty typical for the cove, though they agreed that there appeared to be less of it than previous years (the cleansing effects of Tropical Storm Irene may have contributed to that result).
"Up here it is usually plastic bottles, aluminum cans, food wrappers, and fishing gear," said Saunders. "On the other hand, down at Moonstone beach, we found mainly cigarette butts."
Saunders believes people who enjoy the cove have developed a better awareness of their impact; occasionally through her coaching.
"One year I came down and there were a bunch of people fishing on the shore. I mentioned the need to pick up afterwards and they did a very good job of that."
Though this year's recruiting efforts came up short, Saunders is still pleased at their trash haul of 100 pounds of styrofoam bits, carpet remnants, plastic bags, and food or beverage containers - some of which appeared to have escaped the confines of the transfer station instead of being washed up on shore.
"We'll get the word out earlier next year to gather a good-sized group of volunteers for next year's Coastal Cleanup Day," said Saunders.
On the other hand, nothing prevents East Greenwich citizens from doing their part to keep their most valuable resource as pristine as possible the other 364 days each year.