Surfrider programs act as coast guards for Delaware beaches

By Glenn Rolfe
Posted 7/3/22

FENWICK ISLAND — A local group that’s part of a worldwide effort dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans and beaches is making positive waves in the First State.

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Surfrider programs act as coast guards for Delaware beaches


FENWICK ISLAND — A local group that’s part of a worldwide effort dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s oceans and beaches is making positive waves in the First State.

Delaware’s chapter of the Surfrider Foundation has a series of initiatives to keep the coastline and waters clean — free of litter and, more specifically, cigarette butts.

On June 11, at State Line Beach in Fenwick Island, it partnered with Plastic Free Delaware to kick off the “Hold on to Your Butt” campaign, a summer-long effort to raise awareness about environmental hazards of such litter and mitigate it in Cape Henlopen, Delaware Seashore and Fenwick Island state parks.

“To help conserve and restore Delaware’s fragile ecosystem, we intend to alleviate cigarette litter by increasing awareness of the environmental dangers of discarding cigarette butts and inspiring smokers to properly dispose of their cigarette waste,” said Surfrider Foundation Delaware chair Brian Moran.

Further, this spring, the Surfrider Foundation launched its Blue Water Task Force, along with the University of Delaware and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. The mission is testing samples to gauge water quality in the Atlantic Ocean.

“We have volunteers who will go out and test the water once a week. They take the water samples to the University of Delaware to be tested,” said Mr. Moran.

Testing locations are Herring Point in Cape Henlopen State Park and Indian River Inlet North. Several of the chapter’s 65 members take water samples in the so-called “shoulder” season.

“We do those March to Memorial Day. Then, we’ll do them basically mid-September through around Thanksgiving. We do the ocean (during) those ... shoulder seasons,” Mr. Moran said. “When DNREC picks up their ocean-testing program in the summer, we then are moving to the inland bays. We test inland bays every two weeks.”

Once lab tests are complete, the university sends results to the foundation and DNREC. “We post our results. We have a water task force website where we post the results for our two locations. Then, we share on social media,” he said.

Thus far in 2022, it’s good news. All tests have been green, which means clean, with low bacteria levels.

“Our Blue Water Task Force, we have not had any issues with our results so far. The water is clean. We’ve haven’t had any high readings or anything,” said Mr. Moran. “Based on the readings of the bacteria, it will go from a green, yellow or red, like a stop (light). It has always been green so far in all our results.”

The foundation works with the environmental department before posting information.

“We have a process with DNREC that, if we find results that are higher, where a warning might need to go out, we have a process with DNREC with how we communicate with DNREC before we communicate to the public, verifying results, so we are not alarming people unnecessarily,” Mr. Moran said.

This initiative has also drawn local financial support, which helps purchase testing materials.

Hold on to Your Butt

Recently, the Keep Delaware Beautiful campaign supplied Delaware State Parks with cigarette butt receptacles that support the parks’ “carry in, carry out” trash policy and Keep DE Litter Free, a program launched by Gov. John Carney in 2019.
Additionally, Hold on to Your Butt offers a free option designed to keep cigarettes from becoming litter.

“What we are doing that is very cool is, at various state park offices — Cape Henlopen, Delaware Seashore State Park at the lifesaving station and the office park in Indian River Inlet Marina, and also Old Inlet Bait & Tackle — we have small pocket ashtrays that are free for people,” Mr. Moran said. “It’s a great partnership with the state parks.”

These small ashtrays can hold five to seven butts, for proper disposal later. They are ideal for those walking or hiking or on the water in boats.

“Many people believe that filters are made of cotton and that they will decompose when left in the environment,” said Dee Durham, chair of Plastic Free Delaware. “In fact, they are made of plastic — plasticized cellulose acetate — which does not biodegrade or compost.”

The butts break down into smaller pieces over the course of 10 years, but they are never truly gone, she said. They also leach chemicals that pollute waterways and pose a significant risk to birds and other wildlife that may mistakenly swallow them.

“Cigarette butts are the No. 1 trash item that we clean up in our beach cleanups,” Mr. Moran said. “We cleaned up over 8,500 cig butts just last year in Delaware. That’s just from our cleanups, not counting other groups and individuals.”

The campaign’s mission is to educate members of the public, particularly smokers.

“People don’t understand — cigarette butts are made of plastic. They think it’s like cotton fiber. (But) basically, they are plastic,” said Mr. Moran. “Even on the side of the road, they just flip them into the water drain. Eventually, that goes out to the ocean at some point, into the water system. They never break down completely. Eventually, over years, they break down into microplastics. Those microplastics are in the environment. We drink the water.

“The other issue is they get into the fish, the marine ecosystem. Fish eat them, and then, we eat the fish. We’re ingesting plastic.”

The June 11 kickoff was staffed by 10 volunteers who collected 7.6 pounds of trash, led by cigarette butts (68 of them), along with paper/wood, paper napkins and plates, other assorted plastics, foam cups and additional litter.

Nationally, so far this year, 11,000-plus Surfrider volunteers have collected 36,357 pounds of trash in 372 cleanups.

For information on the local Surfrider chapter, visit here.

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