TREMONT, Maine — How do automotive tires wind up on an uninhabited island with no roads or docking facilities?
People who found several tires Saturday on Placentia Island, which is nearly two miles off Mount Desert Island, had some theories about how they got on the island. Some said the tires could have washed ashore. Others suggested that the placement may have been more deliberate.
There was no doubt Saturday, however, about how such tires can be disposed of properly: organize a large-scale cleanup effort involving at least a dozen nonprofit and governmental agencies and more than 30 dedicated volunteers.
The tires, along with piles of fishing rope, damaged or lost lobster buoys and traps and scores of plastic drinking bottles and other containers were collected Saturday along the western shore of Placentia Island as part of the third annual Clean Water, Clean Shores event on and around MDI. The cleanup effort is a collaboration of several groups who organize their own trash collection events and, once a year, marshal all their forces together to try to get maximum results.
Groups that participated in Saturday’s event included Maine Island Trail Association, The Nature Conservancy, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the Tremont Fire Department, Acadia National Park, Friends of Acadia, Island Institute, College of the Atlantic, MDI Biological Laboratory and MDI Paddlers.
“It’s just constant,” organizer and Bar Harbor resident Ron Greenberg — standing on the Tremont town pier in the local village of Bernard — said Saturday morning about trash washing up on shore. “If you had a million volunteers going out, maybe you would get it all cleaned up.”
“But there still will be more next year,” chimed in Bill Weir, a local resident and board member of MITA.
Manufactured items have been found in the world’s oceans for millennia, but as ocean traffic has increased in recent centuries, and with the more recent inventions of nonbiodegradable materials such as rubber, plastic and styrofoam, the amount of trash in the ocean has increased. The volume of man-made garbage in the ocean, particularly plastic, has become a cause of concern for environmental groups that say it is starting to have significant effects on marine life and the marine environment.
State officials have similar cleanup efforts planned statewide beginning next week that are timed to coincide with the Ocean Conservancy-sponsored International Coastal Cleanup. Maine Coastweek 2012 is scheduled to run from Sept. 15 through Sept. 22, and, so far, has more than 40 coordinators who are organizing cleanups along Maine’s coast, according to state officials.
In a prepared statement about the event, Theresa Torrent-Ellis of Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, said the amount of trash that makes its way into the sea has an effect on land, too.
“Trash jeopardizes the health of the ocean, coastline, economy and people,” she said. “It is in our oceans, beaches and waterways — and it is here to stay unless we change the way we get rid of our garbage and do it properly.”
Torrent-Ellis said that the 2011 International Coastal Cleanup involved nearly 600,000 people who picked up more than 9 million pounds of trash along more than 20,000 miles of coastline worldwide. Maine had 2,361 volunteers last year who cleared 109 miles of beaches and coastal waterways of an estimated 19,082 pounds of trash, for an average of 175 pounds of trash per mile, she added.
More information about Maine Coastweek 2012 can be found online at www.maine.gov/spo/coastal/.
On Saturday, as volunteers filled trash bags on the shore of Placentia, several boats darted to and from the island’s shore, collecting filled bags and helping to move volunteers from one section of the island’s rocky edge to another. Filled bags were transferred to a U.S. Fish & Wildlife boat which then ferried the debris to the town dock in Bernard, where more volunteers helped unload the trash, separating reusable fishing gear into a separate pile and tossing the rest into a large metal trash bin.
Weir said that last year, volunteers collected and recycled nearly 200 wire lobster traps, with a cumulative weight of 3,300 pounds, that washed up in the MDI area. Half a car transmission and “a lot” of empty 5-hour Energy bottles are among other items that have been found in recent years, organizers said.
Maria Jenness, stewardship manager for MITA, said Saturday’s efforts netted 82 bags of trash, 12 traps and a dozen other miscellaneous items including plastic totes, foam blocks and five tires. She said the groups decide which islands to target by conducting visual surveys by boat every 7-10 days, and keeping track of which have the most debris along the shore.
“[Stewards] visit the islands regularly,” she said. “It’s an ongoing thing.”
Debris sometimes ends up in the ocean as a result of large-scale natural disasters. Tons of household items, parts of boats and road vehicles, fishing gear and other items were washed into the Pacific by tsunamis generated by the March 2011 earthquake off the coast of Japan. Officials and other ocean observers have been tracking the debris as it floats east and predict it will appear along the western coast of North America in 2014.
But not all trash that ends up in the ocean washes ashore. Huge swaths of garbage, most of it pieces of broken-down plastic, have been found in remote sections of both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, where ocean and wind currents amass the debris.
Most of the plastic pieces are confetti-sized flecks spread across thousands of miles of ocean and are hard to see with the naked eye. The debris is harmful for fish, sea mammals — and at the top of the food chain, potentially humans — even though much of the plastic has broken into such tiny pieces they are nearly invisible.
Since there is no realistic way of cleaning the oceans, advocates say the key is to keep more plastic out by raising awareness and, wherever possible, challenging a throwaway culture that uses nonbiodegradable materials for disposable products.
Tom Walker, a Somesville resident and retired Department of Homeland Security pilot, was one of the volunteers who helped collect trash on Placentia Island. He acknowledged that the amount of removed from the island Saturday might not make much of a dent in the worldwide problem of ocean garbage, but he disputed the suggestion that it doesn’t make a difference.
Walker said that it is important that people take an interest in the places where they live and try to help out. Organizing a group effort, he said, helps spread the message about the ocean pollution issue and, he hopes, will lead to similar efforts elsewhere.
Walker added that, having grown up in New York City and piloting planes over remote parts of the country where they’re aren’t many people, he has seen firsthand the effect that people can have on the world around them.
“From living in the Bronx, you get the sense that this can be lost — that it won’t last forever,” he said, pointing to the surrounding clear water and tree-lined islands. “It does make a difference.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.