Photo: rusted bicycle and soda can
About 150 volunteers came out in Washington, D.C. for the International Coastal Cleanup.

Courtesy Ocean Conservancy

Catherine Clarke Fox

Eleven-year-old Cammy Holmes tramped along the shores of Washington, D.C.'s Anacostia River with her big sister and a friend. Wearing gloves to protect their hands, they filled a garbage bag with everything from fishing line and dirty plastic bottles to old grocery bags.

The girls, and about 150 others volunteered in the International Coastal Cleanup, an annual event that raises awareness of the importance of keeping the world's waterways and oceans clean.

The cleanup was sponsored by an organization called the Ocean Conservancy that works to protect ocean animals and their homes. Unfortunately, a lot of trash never makes it into a trash can. It blows on the wind, and travels down streams and rivers to the sea.

Trash isn't just ugly—it can be dangerous for creatures that live in the water. Every year, plastic trash like old fishing gear, shopping bags, and food wrappers kills one million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles.

Sometimes these animals get tangled up in garbage and die. Sometimes they eat trash that chokes or poisons them. Sea turtles, for example, mistake plastic bags for the jellyfish they love to eat.

At the Anacostia River, Cammy helped the volunteers pick up 2,380 pounds (1079.5 kilograms) of trash in just a few hours along three miles (4.83 kilometers) of shoreline.

"When you hear about a coastal cleanup you think, gross, you have to pick up trash," says Cammy. "But then you get there and find out it is actually fun! I liked meeting all the other people and helping out the environment."

This one-day event has an important message 365 days of the year: "We are all connected to the ocean. You can help keep the ocean clean by putting trash in the right place. Take the extra time to put your snack wrapper in the garbage can instead of throwing it on the ground, and recycle everything you can," says Sonia Besteiro of the Ocean Conservancy.

Fast Facts:

  • In the past 21 years, volunteers with the International Coastal Cleanup have cleared millions of pounds of litter from 211,460 miles (340,312 kilometers) of coastline worldwide. That distance is the equivalent of going around the Earth eight times!
  • In 2006, 358,617 volunteers cleaned 34,560 miles (55,619 kilometers) of shoreline, collecting 7 million tons of trash!
  • In the 2007 cleanup, nearly half a million people in 70 countries pitched in.
Text by Catherine Clarke Fox