Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Spring Cleanup hosted by the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association (PCSGA) on the South Puget Sound. As I pulled up (in torrential downpour) to the Arcadia Boat Ramp in Shelton, WA, I was heartened to see not only volunteers from eight shellfish farms, but a wide breadth of the community all geared up to support the health of the Sound. With about 120 in attendance, the cleanup brought together dozens of shellfish growers, members of the Squaxin Island Tribe and Nisqually Tribe, Northwest Farm Credit Services, and Washington State Department of Natural Resources on a common goal: a trash free Puget Sound.
This wasn’t PCSGA’s first cleanup—many of their members depend on a healthy Puget Sound for their livelihood and sees tremendous value in keeping the Sound free of debris. For this reason, PCSGA organized their first cleanup event in 2005, and has since hosted over 30 cleanups on and around the Puget Sound. PCSGA often partners with Puget Soundkeeper Alliance and Washington CoastSavers, both of which are local non-profit organizations that work year round to conserve and maintain the Sound, not to mention fantastic International Coastal Cleanup State Coordinators. Every spring and fall, Puget Sound’s shellfish growers and partners set out on dozens of boats to comb 120 miles of shoreline for debris. Each time, they (un)fortunately return to the docks with vessels packed full with items recovered from the remote stretches of beach and surface waters of the Sound.
About 20% of the debris they find in the South Puget Sound waters is related to shellfish aquaculture. This is precisely why the PCSGA and its members are so adamant about conducting these regular cleanups; they feel it is their duty to collect and sort the material to maximize the amount of gear that can be reused in their farms and to recycle or properly dispose of the rest to ensure it does not threaten the Sound’s flora, and fauna, or hinder the productivity of shellfish farms. We know all too well that when the massive Styrofoam floats and rigid plastics that the volunteers hauled from the water are left to their own devices, they break up into smaller and smaller fragments, called microplastics. These plastic particles are nearly impossible to remove from the water which means they can threaten the fish, shellfish, whales and other marine animals that inhabit the Puget Sound.
Trash in the Sound is not only unsightly, but a threat to the many Washington State residents who rely on Puget Sound for their livelihoods. The shellfish industry employs 3,000 people in Washington alone, and farmed shellfish bivalves produce nearly $150 million in annual revenue for the State. The small town of Shelton, WA, the location of last weeks’ cleanup, is a perfect example of this, where farming, logging, ranching, and oyster harvesting lie at the foundation of its economy. PCSGA recognizes the reliance of communities on Puget Sound, and enjoys giving back to the Sound regularly.
All around the world, it is hard-working groups like the PCSGA that make a difference for our ocean. During the 2017 International Coastal Cleanup, PCSGA supported Washington CoastSavers in removing six tons of debris from Washington’s Pacific Coast and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. In addition, the shellfish growers work with Ocean Conservancy to fight the impacts of carbon dioxide pollution as part of the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification.
As we approach the 2018 International Coastal Cleanup this coming September, make sure to find a local group in your community to join for a beach or waterway cleanup. At its core, the Cleanup is about uniting community around a common purpose: trash free seas. Plus, the ocean is always downstream. So whether you’re on the Sound, in the mountains or at the coast; find a stretch of shoreline near you and help make your community (and the ocean) a cleaner, safer place.
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