Surfrider Foundation and SOLVE united for a beach cleanup Sunday, February 17, at the Devil’s Punchbowl State Natural Area.

“The good news is we removed about a thousand pounds of micro-plastic,” said Scott Rosin of the Newport Chapter of Surfrider Foundation. “The bad news is there was that much of it on less than an acre of beach.”

According to Rosin, the amount of micro-plastic — tiny bits of debris from years of plastic containers being ground down by wave action and UV rays — has been growing steadily over the last 70 years.

“It’s a toxic confetti that most people don’t realize is dangerous to all life” said Rosin, “not just to the whales and birds and fish we see pictures of on the internet, their bellies clogged to the point that they die because they can no longer digest food. Scientists are now detecting micro-plastic in beer, meat, fish, honey and tap water. We’re eating, drinking and breathing it on a daily basis. It’s in our fatty tissues and our feces. More than 8 million tons of waste plastic enter our oceans annually. You can no longer scoop a bucket of ocean water up anywhere on the planet that does not contain micro-plastic.”

Rosin has led beach cleanups for the last four Sundays and says he will continue doing so until at least March 31, or as long as conditions remain favorable.

“The beaches are packed tidal flats right now,” he says. “The combination of packed sand and the so-called king tides, which are some of the highest tides of the year, make gathering the debris more effective than at any other time. The plastic is very light and comes in at the highest tidal surges, leaving long, visible lines as the tide recedes.”

Rosin says gathering techniques are evolving and becoming more efficient.

“My first cleanup was kind of depressing,” he says. “People were eager to help out, but trying to pick up tiny pieces of micro-plastic with your fingers and then shaking it through a little screen or colander is slow, to say the least. Especially when you can see the stuff endlessly all along the beach.“

Wet sand was also a problem because it stuck to the plastic and added weight to the bags that need to be hauled up the beach stairs. Water was the answer.

“We found that suspending the sandy plastic on screens and then pouring buckets of water through it removed the sand. Tiny bits of driftwood remain, but mostly it’s plastic.”

Last week, 30 volunteers came to help out, most of them from outside Lincoln County. Rosin spoke to people from Bend, Portland, Wilsonville and Hermiston.

“It would be great if we could get more locals involved,” he said. “The beaches here are, or were, as beautiful as anywhere in the world. I’ve surfed and played on these beaches since 1973. I can tell you that the problem of visible plastic pollution here has grown exponentially.

Nobody knows what the full effects of plastic pollution may be. This isn’t a disaster that you can see coming, like a forest fire or a hurricane. I anticipate a long road to educating ourselves about the dangers involved.”

Join the next cleanup – here’s the schedule!