Veterans WCC Crews Remove Debris from Remote Beaches

Thank you to Liam Antrim and Chiggers Stokes for sharing this article about Veterans on the Washington Conservation Crew cleaning our beaches here in Washington!
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Veterans WCC Crews Remove Debris from Remote Beaches
by Liam Antrim and Chiggers Stokes

This WCC crew included Edward Hueghs, Aurelio Elliott, Peter Fritzerald, Justin Bebee, and Mikeal No-Line (not pictured) and was led by Aurelio Elliott Aurelio of the WA Department of Ecology. Photo: Mikeal

In the summer of 2011, Tony Petrillo spent ten days hiking the wilderness coast of the Olympic National Park.  Like many before him, he returned home impressed by nature’s beauty and disturbed by the amount of plastic and other marine debris he had seen.  But instead of resignation, he chose action. Tony, who is a member of the Jefferson County MRC in Port Townsend, drafted a plan for remote beach debris cleanup and brought it before the North Pacific Coast Marine Resources Committee (NPC MRC) in early 2013. Options outlined in his plan included hauling debris out by land, by air, or by water and discussed pro’s and con’s: the land route takes lots of person power and time; the air and water options involve less human labor but intersect with government bureaucracy due to Park and Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary’s (OCNMS) access restrictions intended to minimize wildlife disturbance and maintain the character of designated wilderness. 

While the NPC MRC members discussed options for facilitating remote beach debris cleanups, a gift was delivered by the Washington State legislature. Fully-funded veterans conservation crews working for Washington Department of Ecology’s Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) were made available to the coast as part of this program to provide jobs and educational opportunities for Gulf War II era military veterans. Here was an immediate means of implementing part of Tony’s plan. Debris removal from outer coast beaches has long been the mission of Washington CoastSavers. Hundreds of CoastSaver volunteers clean up beaches each April and September where they have safe access and can get out and back with loads of debris in one day’s effort.  The more remote “red zones” on CoastSavers maps were the logical targets for WCC veterans crews – places too challenging to send untrained volunteers.  These areas include Goodman to Mosquito Creek, Toleak to Scott’s Bluff, south from Sand Point, and Duk Point. In late October 2013, a WCC veterans crew arrived at Neah Bay for their first assignment: to wrestle with debris on the far stretches of Shi Shi Beach and on the Makah Reservation. Aaron Parker, a Makah tribal member and employee, led the crew down unimproved trails to beautiful and remote shorelines fouled with debris. 
The veterans crews’ work on the outer coast has been coordinated and supported by Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary (OCNMS), the Makah Tribe, Olympic National Park, and NPC MRC members. OCNMS staff trained the crews to collect data on the types and weight of debris and to identify and respond properly to hazardous waste, Japan tsunami marine debris, invasive species on debris, marine mammal strandings, and sea star wasting disease. Since that first visit last October, the crews have been out there for a total of eight weeks being chased by tides, slogging through mud and rain, and hauling heavy loads up steep bluff trails and out to the nearest road. Thus far, over a ton of plastic, foam, metal, rope and other debris has been gathered and removed from the marine environment by these WCC crews.
 The goal is to keep the remote outer coast shorelines as regular destinations on the WCC veterans crews’ schedules for the duration of their funding—at least through June 2015. In addition to removing debris, the crews are documenting the locations of things left behind. Generally these are objects too heavy or awkward to haul out over trails. With time, the crews’ data will be used to measure the cost effectiveness of this approach to remote beach cleanup. It is likely that a combination of approaches – volunteers, field-hardened crews, and boats or helicopters – will be required to keep our wilderness coastline from looking like a trash dump. In the meantime, the WCC veterans crews are a gift we are making the best use of, as often as possible.
"The AmeriCorps and Veteran Corps programs through the WCC allow environmentally concerned individuals to do many things to improve the many unique habitats of Washington State. We have removed at least one ton of debris from the shorelines of our home state. This restoration work is vital to keeping our beaches clean and aesthetic. To put it almost bluntly, we pick up the ball while others toss the ball around waiting for someone else to score,” comments crew member Mikeal No-Line.
Coastal visitors are certainly benefiting from the labors of these dedicated crews. If you see them out there, express your appreciation for their hard work and service to our nation.