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Ocean Currents

Local Volunteer Coordinators are Mission Critical

We couldn’t pull off the International Coastal Cleanup without these incredible ocean heroes

Gabriel Ortiz_Ocean Conservancy
© Gabriel Ortiz

Our 34th annual International Coastal Cleanup (ICC) is just a few days away, which means that right now, all over the world, hundreds of ICC coordinators are checking final boxes—running errands, packing cleanup supplies and sending reminder e-mails—in preparation for the big day.

Local coordinators are critical to the success of the ICC. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to mobilize nearly as many volunteers (more than 1 MILLION in 2018!), cover nearly as much ground (some 20,000+ miles), or pick up—and keep track of—nearly as much trash (23 million POUNDS of it).

What makes them such superstars?

They are the local experts and logistical whizzes.

Ocean Conservancy’s Trash Free Seas® program is big and growing, but we would need an army of staff to plan and execute the nearly 15,000 cleanups that take place every year as part of the ICC. Inevitably, local coordinators know best where to plan a safe and effective cleanup.  And they are logistical geniuses. Take our coordinator in the Philippines, Gerry Reyes, for example. The ICC Philippines has turned out the largest number of volunteers in the world for four years in a row. Run out of a central office in Manila, the team distributes ICC materials to a network of site captains who operate cleanups around the country. It’s a monumental effort that last year resulted in the removal of 798,000 pounds of trash from the island nation’s shorelines.

The International Coastal Cleanup is this Saturday, September 21.
Find a cleanup near you at www.signuptocleanup.org.

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© Kanyarat Kosavisutte

They turn volunteers into citizen scientists.

If we’re being honest, it’s much easier to mindlessly pick up trash and move on with your day than to log and track what you’re actually collecting. But data is what makes the ICC so special, and so important. Knowing what is out there and in what quantities helps Ocean Conservancy work with scientists, policymakers and others to better understand the problem of ocean plastic and offer solutions. Coordinators help guide volunteers through this process, giving them the tools and information they need to help us build out our Ocean Trash Index—the world’s largest database on marine debris.

They are scientists themselves.

In some cases, they do the data collection themselves! Last year, our ICC partner in Ghana, the Smart Nature Freak Youth Volunteers Foundation of Accra-Ghana, collected and logged some 5 million individual items. They also conduct primary science, inspired by their experiences as cleanup leaders. A couple years ago, our ICC partner in South Korea, Our Sea of East Asia Network (OSEAN), used the fact that polystyrene fishing buoys were the number-one-collected item in Korea to embark on a baseline study tracking and understanding this particular debris item in detail. They regularly publish their research in peer-reviewed journals.

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© David Kwaku Sakyi/Ocean Conservancy

They innovate and share best practices.

On the frontlines of cleanups, coordinators often spot problems and come up with innovative solutions that OC can then share with the larger network of coordinators. When trash bags aren’t an option—or if they are simply trying to use less plastic—they seek out donations of coffee bean bags or hops bags from local breweries. They build big tripods to more easily weigh filled bags of trash.

Indeed coordinators have offered valuable insight over the years to make the data collection a greater success, and the cleanups themselves more enjoyable. Our partner in Germany, Kieler Forschungswerkstatt, has turned data sorting into a fun, kid-friendly game by creating a “giant data card” on the beach with bins to hold each category of trash item found. In 2016, we developed our Webby Award-nominated Clean Swell app inspired by feedback from coordinators on how to make cleanups more fun and engaging (to be clear, they’re always fun and engaging!). And when we started working on Clean Swell, we beta-tested the app with partners conducting seas turtle nest patrols in the southeast U.S.

Kieler Forschungswerkstatt
© Kieler Forschungswerkstatt

So, thank you to all of our amazing ICC coordinators; we can’t wait to see what you accomplish this year!  Don’t forget, the International Coastal Cleanup is this Saturday, September 21. Find a cleanup near you at www.signuptocleanup.org.

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