Volunteers gather marine debris at Crandall Spit
ANACORTES — Shotgun shells, espresso straws, rusty nails. Those were a few of the items recovered from Fidalgo Bay’s Crandall Spit on Monday morning, and an example of the growing, global problem of trash in the oceans and on beaches throughout the world.
Employees from Shell Puget Sound Refinery and volunteers from several environment organizations, canvassed the typically inaccessible beach to gather as much trash as possible from the otherwise prime intertidal habitat.
“The habitat out here is just amazing for birds and fish and crabs and everything,” Shell environmental manager Nate Biletnikoff said. “It’s good to get out here and take care of some of this remnant stuff.”
Crandall Spit is a long stretch of marsh and sandy beach exposed at low tide in Fidalgo Bay, which is one of eight aquatic reserves in the state. The area is not open to the public due to its location near the Shell refinery and the refinery’s pipelines.
Yet trash, including items left behind when the beach was open to hunting and items that have washed up from the bay, can be found on the beach.
“Unless you have people willing to go out and grab it, it stays out in the environment,” Biletnikoff said.
Many items found Monday were plastics, such as an orange net about the size of a grocery bag and several discarded water bottles.
When those types of items wind up in the world’s oceans, they break down into small pieces called microplastics, but never truly go away, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In an ongoing effort to address the problem of trash and microplastics in the world’s oceans, NOAA released this month a plan for reducing marine debris in Washington.
NOAA defines marine debris as “any persistent solid material manufactured or processed and disposed of or abandoned in the marine environment or the Great Lakes.”
Washington’s is the fourth regional Marine Debris Action Plan NOAA has authored through its Marine Debris Program since 2006, according to the program website. Plans were previously developed for the Great Lakes, Hawaii and Oregon.
To develop Washington’s Marine Debris Action Plan, various state and local representatives including from the Skagit Marine Resources Committee, Samish Indian Nation, Pacific Shellfish Institute and state Department of Natural Resources worked with NOAA.
“A lot is at stake particularly in Washington state, where outdoor recreation, shellfish harvests and aquaculture, and commercial, tribal and recreational fisheries are all economically and culturally significant,” a news release states.
The plan has four main goals: Preventing, removing and researching the impacts of marine debris, as well as coordinating those activities among government, nonprofit and community groups throughout the state.
From a cigarette butt to a large tarp enfolded with sand, the group that took to the Crandall Spit beach Monday recovered marine debris of all shapes and sizes.
Items collected from certain areas will later be categorized for research purposes, to help inform a federal effort to better understand and address marine debris.
“This is a combination of a general cleanup that Shell wanted us to work with them on here and also testing the (federal) protocol for marine debris characterization,” Betty Carteret of the nonprofit Friends of Skagit Beaches said.
Members of Friends of Skagit Beaches, the Skagit Marine Resources Committee’s Salish Sea Stewards program and the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve’s Citizen Stewardship Committee participated in the effort.
In another effort focused on prevention, Carteret said Friends of Skagit Beaches and the Skagit County Public Works Solid Waste Division are using a state Department of Ecology grant to encourage less use of disposable plastics and the proper recycling of items that can be reused.