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Clean Water Acts

Paddlers Clean Up Ocean, Lake and River Debris

by Avery Mack

FB_0714_BeachCleanUpVolunteer“The ocean is my bliss. My job lets me do what I love and call it work,” says Andrea Neal, Ph.D., founder and CEO of Blue Ocean Sciences, a scientific collaboration seeking healthy water solutions, in Ojai, California. “When I surf, I’m in sync with water and air at the same time.” One time during a Scandinavian snowfall she donned a wet suit to ride eight-foot waves; after splashdown she emerged with ice-tipped eyelashes and a huge grin. “I’ve never been so cold but it was glorious!”

Neal likens scuba diving to entering another world, revealing nature’s undersea glories. “Crabs sneak a peek and you’re face-to-face with fish. Sea lions want to play,” she says. “I’ve also had great white sharks cruise by and give me an intimidating nudge.”

It’s not just sharks and extreme weather that swimmers, divers and watercraft enthusiasts worry about these days—it’s trash, too. The most basic requirement for safe water sports is clean water. Plastics, paper and other debris, ranging from microscopic toxins to everyday garbage, pose life-threatening hazards to human and marine life. “I want my kids and their kids to share in what I’ve experienced,” exclaims Neal, part of the global scientific community redefining clean water habitats as an investment.

Semiannual walking beach cleanups, an Oregon tradition for 30 years, have removed 2.8 million pounds of trash, largely comprising cigarette butts, fishing ropes and plastic bottles. Unusual items include telephone poles and a 200-pound block of Styrofoam. In the 2014 spring campaign, 4,800 volunteers that treasure coastal recreational activities removed an estimated 24 tons of litter and marine debris (solv.org). What West Coasters see can also show up in Japan and vise-versa, so coordinated cleanup efforts benefit outdoor enthusiasts in both countries.

Lake Tahoe, on the California/Nevada border, beckons paddleboard, raft, canoe and kayak aficionados. Last year, volunteers for the Great Sierra River Cleanup, a Sierra Nevada Conservancy project, finessed the condition of this recreational site by picking up a ton of trash in and near the water and were able to recycle 600 pounds of it (Tinyurl.com/SierraRiverCleanup).

Desert winds, combined with flat landscapes, blow Las Vegas debris into Nevada’s Lake Mead. Operation Zero – Citizens Removing and Eliminating Waste ferries volunteers to a cove accessible only by boat to clean and enjoy the area (Tinyurl.com/LakeMeadOperationZero).

The resulting fit natural environment invites visitors to the lake to try new sports like wakesurfing, riding the water behind a wave-producing boat by dropping the tow line once waves form. The more adventurous go wakeboarding, which combines water skiing, snowboarding and surfing skills as the rider becomes airborne between waves. In even more advanced waterskating, the boarder focuses on styling skateboarder moves.

Be a hero, take pollution down to zero.

~ National Park Service

Further inland, Adopt-a-Beach volunteers help keep the Great Lakes clean. More than a beach sweep, volunteers regularly monitor litter throughout the year and perform a complete beach health assessment on each visit. The eight Great Lakes border states—Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin—benefit from teams of volunteers continually working to improve beach health (GreatLakes.org/adoptabeach).

Moving south, Project AWARE cleans up Iowa’s waterways, “one stretch of river, one piece of trash at a time” (Tinyurl.com/IowaAware). Stand up paddleboarding, kayaking and canoeing are popular river activities. Paddlers collect litter en route and leave it in designated bins at access points.

In Missouri, the Big River beckons. Jeff Briggs, an insurance adjustor in High Ridge, tubes the mile-plus stretch between dams at Rockford Beach Park and Byrnes Mill. “When we’re tubing, it’s just for enjoyment,” he says. “For a longer float, we take the jon boat, so there’s space to stow trash.”

Table Rock Lake, in southern Missouri, draws fishermen and water sports enthusiasts. Their WK Lewis Shoreline Cleanup has removed 179 tons of trash in 10 years. In 2013, 670 volunteers filled 11 dumpsters (Tinyurl.com/WK-Lewis-Cleanup).

“It takes love and commitment, patience and persistence to keep cleaning up habitats,” says Wallace J. Nichols, Ph.D., co-founder of four grassroots water advocacy groups. “Clean water is important though, to sustain fit life on the planet.”

Avery Mack is a freelance writer in St. Louis, MO. Connect via AveryMack@mindspring.com.

In the spring, when waters are high, Rivers for Change sponsors paddling races and other California river events to highlight the importance of clean water. Starting in September and continuing through the winter months, they partner with water use organizations and land trusts to help clean up waterways like the Sacramento River.

~ Matt Palmarillo, California 100 event director, RiversForChange.org.

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