Autumn isn’t usually peak season for beachgoers, but on a recent Saturday morning about 5,000 people put their toes in the sand for Alabama’s 28th Coastal Cleanup.
Organized by Alabama PALS (People Against a Littered State) and the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) State Lands Division, the event mobilizes volunteers from Dauphin Island to Perdido Pass to “Get the Trash Out of the Splash.”
State Coordinator Angela Underwood said the annual cleanup has removed more than 1.8 million pounds of trash from Alabama’s coastline and waterways since 1987.
“We’ve known for a while that marine debris is an ever-increasing problem — especially with so many new plastics and disposable consumer goods coming on the market,” Underwood said. “We are seeing some really adverse effects on the environment and also on wildlife. It is a navigation problem and a human health problem. We do this not only to clean up the environment, but also to educate people on ways to prevent this from happening in the first place.”
Alabama’s anti-litter initiative is part of Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, held worldwide the third Saturday of September. Kara Lankford, who works for Ocean Conservancy, serves as a volunteer zone captain for the Alabama cleanup.
“No one is paid to do this. It’s just a volunteer event and a great educational event,” Lankford said. “We get anyone from a kid in a stroller who’s helping his mom along the way to someone who is 85 years of age. We have a wide range of volunteers, and they all contribute so much. A lot of the Boy Scouts and high school groups get involved. It’s great to educate them when they are young about the importance of keeping our environment clean.”
Individual cleanup zones are organized by churches, civic clubs and communities. Zone captains, like Lankford, identify areas with a litter problem and send teams to pick up trash. Alabama PALS and the DCNR provide garbage bags, gloves, T-shirts and data cards so volunteers can report the amount of litter collected. Local governments and waste disposal companies assist with trash collection. Supply costs are covered by state and local sponsors, including Alfa Insurance.
The sponsors and volunteers see their time and money as an investment in the future, said Underwood, as her four-year-old daughter, Evi, leaned against her mother’s leg.
“She knows mommy is working really hard, and we’ve talked to her a little about it,” Underwood said. “I think about her and all the kids and what I envision our environment being like for them. I really want it to be as good as it can be, and that’s part of what drives me.”
In addition to Coastal Cleanup, Alabama PALS administers other anti-littering programs including Adopt-A-Mile, Clean Campus and Spring Cleanup. For more about Coastal Cleanup and PALS visit alabamacoastalcleanup.com or alpals.org.