The International Coastal Cleanup last year attracted 450,000 volunteers who in a single day removed 8.2 million pounds of debris from 18,000 miles of coasts in 74 different nations, according to a final report on the 2005 Cleanup released by the Ocean Conservancy, organizer of the annual event. The report marks the start of the countdown to this year's International Coastal Cleanup, set for September 16, 2006.
"Marine debris kills wildlife and is a threat to the local environment, not to mention an eyesore," said Vickie Matter, director of the International Coastal Cleanup. "The information we've gathered over the past 20 years shows that it's ultimately a manmade problem, which means it is highly solvable."
The International Coastal Cleanup is the largest single-day volunteer event for the marine environment. During the event, volunteers record statistics of each local cleanup. The Ocean Conservancy compiles all the local figures into a report on cumulative marine debris data.
From the first cleanup to date, 6.2 million volunteers have removed a grand total of 109 million pounds of debris from the world's beaches and waterways, covering 179 million miles in 127 different nations.
Worldwide in 2005, volunteers found 101 animals entangled in debris, about half of them seabirds.
Nine marine mammals were found entangled in the United States alone. Discarded fishing line was responsible for nearly half of all entanglements, while rope and fishing nets caused the rest.
Land-based activities accounted for 58 percent of the debris collected worldwide, and an additional 29 percent is from activities related to tobacco smoking. The remaining items are a mix from oceanic activities, medical or hygienic materials, or the result of dumping.
"During the Cleanup, the effort is local, but the effect is global," said Matter. "Making sure people take responsibility for their actions and keep their trash out of the marine environment is the crucial component, and not just during cleanups but year-round, too. Every piece of debris has human fingerprints on it."
Volunteers recorded every piece of debris they picked up. Their statistics show that the top three types of debris cigarettes, food wrappers, and caps and lids account for over half of all debris collected in the United States.
Surveys from the last decade indicate that most people do not consider their own contributions to marine debris to be significant enough to warrant a change in personal behavior. However, data collected during the 2005 cleanup shows that pinpointing the types of debris and the activities that cause them aids in the creation of educational programs to help people develop a new mind set toward littering, the Conservancy says in its report. "The real solution is prevention, and that takes responsible behavior," said Matter. "Raising this awareness is key."