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Plastic, butts pose problems for ocean, beaches and humans

Sep 11th, 2009 | Category: MDC News, Shoreline Restoration News
By Wayne Grant, Hometown News | View Source

Is it the World’s Most Famous Beach or the world’s largest ashtray?

In 2008, more than 28,000 cigarette butts and 6,000 bottle caps were removed during beach cleanups, said Jennifer Winters of Volusia County Environmental Management.

Area residents will get their chance to improve the beach environment by taking part in the International Coastal Cleanup from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. on Sept. 19.

Last year, 633 volunteers participated in Volusia County beach cleanups removing 2,700 pounds of trash.

The upcoming event is held in conjunction with a world- wide beach cleanup organized by the Ocean Conservancy.

Ms. Winters said even though a contractor collects trash on the beach daily, many small items slip through.

“The small things get mixed in the sand or caught in seaweed,” she said.

Another big problem is plastics, Ms. Winters said, which animals can get tangled in or eat.

Joseph J. Delfino, professor of environmental engineering sciences at the University of Florida, agreed that both plastics and cigarette butts are hazardous to the environment.

“Anytime an animal eats something that nature didn’t put there as part of its food supply, it runs the risk of choking. The item can also interfere with digestion,” he said.

Mr. Delfino said recent studies show that sunlight and wave action break plastic down into small pieces that can be eaten by animals.

The chemicals in cigarette filters may also pose problems for animals, Mr. Delfino said, although he does not know of any studies.

“It’s logical that if a cigarette filter has done its job and trapped some nasty stuff, then the animal’s digestive system could absorb at least part of it,” he said.

Chad Truxall, of the Marine Discovery Center in New Smyrna Beach, said another common problem is birds and turtles getting entangled in fishing line.

He said sometimes a bird will snag a fish on the end of a line and the fisherman will cut the line.

If a bird is caught on a line, he said, the fisherman should slowly reel it in and try to get the fish out of the bird’s mouth.

Ms. Winters said pollution in the ocean doesn’t just float away.

“The ocean and the Intracoastal waterways are connected,” she said. “The trash ends up in the waterways and can affect our drinking water.”

For information about the cleanup, including locations and how to register, go to Volusia.org/cleanup or call Ms. Winters at 386-238-4668 or Mr. Truxall at 386-428-3310.