By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
There were paper wrappers, plastic bottles, cups, cigarette butts, deflated balloons, ripped pieces of clothing, a shoe or two and old boards among the assorted trash and litter. One group even saw a live mouse that scurried away.
This stuff wasn’t at a landfill. It was removed from Sea Isle City’s beaches and dunes during a communitywide cleanup Saturday involving nearly 130 environmentally conscious volunteers who scoured the shoreline carrying large trash bags and wearing vinyl gloves.
The annual event, organized by Sea Isle’s Environmental Commission in partnership with the state group Clean Ocean Action, traditionally attracts families, community organizations, companies, school groups and other volunteers who simply want to protect the environment.
This was the 35th year for Sea Isle’s fall beach sweep. A cleanup is also held every year in the spring.
Annette Lombardo, who has been a member of the Environmental Commission for 30 years and served as its chairwoman for the last 20, stressed the importance of Sea Isle keeping its beaches in pristine condition to make a good impression on vacationers.
“We know they will come back again. Otherwise, they would go to another town,” Lombardo said of visitors wanting clean beaches. “With COVID, we see that people are staying closer to home for their vacations. They are discovering Sea Isle again. They are seeing how nice Sea Isle is.”
John and Sandy Spinelli, who live in Sea Isle, were doing their part by cleaning up trash from the beach and dunes near their home on 44th Street.
They said some of the more unusual pieces of discarded trash they found were vaping devices and old apples.
“There were also a lot of old soda cans and plastic candy wrappers,” John said.
Sandy was pleasantly surprised that they didn’t see any cigarette butts on the beach, although they did find two in the dunes.
Traditionally, cigarette butts and plastic bottles, cups and wrappers are among the biggest source of litter found during the beach sweeps. However, a statewide smoking ban took effect on New Jersey beaches and public parks in January 2019, raising speculation that may have been the reason why John and Sandy Spinelli didn’t spot any cigarette butts on the beach.
“Maybe it’s working,” John said of the smoking ban.
Members of the Environmental Commission handed out vinyl gloves and large trash bags to the volunteers who showed up for the beach sweep. Volunteers were also given a data card to record the types of trash and debris they found.
The Environmental Commission plans to compile a report later on that will analyze the types of litter that were picked up and the amount. The report is annually written by commission member Maria Andrews, the associate director of undergraduate programs in Earth and Environmental Science at the University of Pennsylvania.
Andrews seemed surprised when one of the beach cleanup volunteers, Marina Ermold, walked over to the Environmental Commission’s sign-up table holding a large board that appeared to come from a bench.
Marina’s husband, Eric, found the board in the dunes at 36th Street. Marina and Eric were joined by their children, Austin, 19, and Annika, 17, during the cleanup. They live in Shillington, Pa., and have a summer home in Sea Isle.
“Nothing surprises me here,” Eric said of the different types of trash he has seen on the beaches and dunes. “We’ve been doing this for years and you can see a lot of trash after the summer and a few storms.”
Marina Ermold said the beach cleanup allows her family an opportunity to give back to the community. She noted that her family spends much of the summer in Sea Isle and doesn’t want to have any vacations spoiled by trash on the beach.
“I think we’re so thankful to be back after the COVID shutdown. It’s nice to get out and enjoy some fresh air,” she said.
Sea Isle normally has a beach cleanup in the spring and fall each year, but the events were canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic. Ignoring the threatening gray skies, a little bit of rain and some gusty winds, the cleanup volunteers were back on Saturday.
Two volunteers, Maureen Bradley and her husband, David Shoop, were meticulously searching the dunes at 45th Street for any litter. They now live in Sea Isle full time after moving from Marlton.
Bradley said they found a child’s shoe and a bike lock, among other types of trash.
“There are lots of balloons and lots of cans,” she said while stuffing a food wrapper into a trash bag.
Paul and Patti Domanico, two other volunteers, were walking down the oceanfront Promenade carrying a trash bag filled with litter they had found, including a large piece of wood.
“I was wondering why it was there,” Paul said of the discarded wood.
Paul and Patti looked inside their trash bag and began naming some of the things they removed from the beach.
“Plastic trash, paper, clothing, socks and shoes,” Paul said.
Then Patti pointed in the trash bag to a kite string holder with the twine still wrapped around it.
“If you want to see something unusual, look at this,” she said of the kite string.
They did not, however, find the kite.