If you’re thinking about organizing a cleanup of a local beach, dive site, river or other coastal environment, here’s what you need to know to get started. And keep in mind, Earth Day is a great day to hold your event, but so does any day of the year!
Remember, when planning an underwater clean up, also make sure to report that data to Project AWAREs Marine Debris Program and contact NOAA to ensure any and all permits are met.
Choose Your Target
First, decide if you’re going to focus on cleaning the beach, or an underwater environment. This will determine which type of permit is required. In the United States, an underwater cleanup requires a call to NOAA. A beach cleanup starts with the local government.
Jack Fishman, Community Conservation Officer for Project Aware®, and previous instructor at Rainbow Reef Dive Center in Key Largo, Florida, has organized dozens of cleanups, and says, “Start by walking into the local government’s offices that house the police headquarters and typically parks and recreation. Whoever is directing the parks and recreation department will tell you what you need.”
Schedule Removal for the Trash
If you’ve done your job, you and your crew are likely going to haul out anywhere between 50 to 300lbs (22 -136kg) or more of garbage. You’ll need a plan for what to do with that garbage.
A minimum of three weeks before your cleanup, call the local waste disposal authority to ask that a dumpster be deposited at your site.
Fishman adds, “They are going to drop this unit off at your request, but the call needs to be made at least three weeks, if not a month in advance. You never know if the units are relied on by other projects and not available. Also, keep in mind that they will pick up the unit at their convenience.”
Make it Fun
Now that the logistics are squared away, it’s time to think about how you will get the community involved. How can you make this fun?
One idea that’s worked well for Fishman is what’s called a Keg-and-Clean. He says, “If it’s a beach cleanup and there is no diving and your volunteers are adults, ask a local brewery to get involved. One idea is to advertise that participants get a free beer if they collect 5lbs (2kg) of trash.”
Clean-ups work much better with sponsorship, but your event sponsor doesn’t need to be a brewery.
Says Fishman, “Local restaurants and businesses are always really excited when people ask if they want to participate in events like these that help the community.”
Get the Word Out
Announce your event on social media, and connect with the community you’re already a part of: Tell your coworkers, gym buddies, and anyone else who might rally.
Fishman suggests reaching out to local schools. “Kids are easy to engage, and there is a good chance their participation will satisfy some required community service hours!”
To promote your first event, take tons of photos of the beach you’re going to target. Instagram works well for sharing this type of message. In your posts, show the problem. And show the beach in use. With enough promotion, people in the local community will find your event. Try to engage surfers, beach volleyball teams, walking clubs or anyone else who might be regularly using that environment.
Document the Event (For Next Year’s Promotion)
“Nothing is more important than production if you want to do the event again,” says Fishman. “Even if you only get 25 people, you can make it look amazing. I take this very seriously—I bring a drone to film people collecting trash, as well as scenic shots of waves crashing on the beach. I have GoPros that film the time-lapse of the dumpster filling.”
“You have to do this in a light that is very marketable and exciting. Take photos of lots of happy, smiling faces. You’ll want to make it look like it’s the coolest beach ever to be on. Or, if you’re on a dive boat, that if you’re not on the boat, what are you doing?”
He also suggests that you’ll document the event every year and adds, “You need to show people that it’s worth doing every time.”
Also, if you have further questions, know that Fishman welcomes your questions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Learn more about the Project Aware Dive Against Debris Specialty.