Socially Distanced Volunteers Clean Up 9,000-Plus Pounds of Trash

The Takeaway: Much credit for the impressive haul goes to the commonwealth’s coastal zone management program and the volunteers, who followed strict health and safety protocols.

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ Division of Coastal Resources Management helped organize and lead a volunteer cleanup effort involving 971 volunteers who collected more than 9,000 pounds of coastal and marine debris in 75 locations on the islands of Saipan, Rota, and Tinian. Now the division is analyzing the data to identify the most-collected types of debris, which will inform future cleanup and public messaging efforts. Many organizations contributed to this September event. It followed the International Coastal Cleanup day, which is coordinated and led locally by the division.

The Ocean Conservancy champions the International Coastal Cleanup on a global scale. It is entering the commonwealth’s cleanup data into its global trash database, which informs strategies worldwide that address ocean pollution.

Division staff members provided groups with an eight-step fact sheet on how to conduct a cleanup safely during the pandemic. Stringent measures—which included distancing, 25 maximum volunteers per group, face masks, disposable gloves, and hand sanitizer for volunteers—were emphasized prior to the event and on the day of the cleanup.

Cigarette butts are the number one most-collected marine debris in the commonwealth and the second most-collected debris worldwide. Messaging by local partners encourages cigarette behavior change—for instance, recommending that people carry a reusable, pocket-sized ashtray or that people speak up when witnessing someone drop cigarette butts in coastal areas.

The major partners made the decision to proceed with the event in September 2020, as usual, because the commonwealth’s incidence of COVID-19 cases had flattened out during that time. (2020)

More Information: Coastal Cleanup Effort

Partners: Micronesia Islands Nature Alliance, National Park Service, Ocean Conservancy, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands’ Division of Coastal Resources Management, Division of Environmental Quality, and Division of Solid Waste