Pandemic forces changes for Alabama Coastal Cleanup

Pandemic forces changes for Alabama Coastal Cleanup
Volunteers pick up trash across Mobile and Baldwin counties during the 2019 Alabama Coastal Cleanup. (Dennis Washington/Alabama NewsCenter)

Alabama’s largest one-day volunteer event will be spread out over an entire week this year thanks to the pandemic.

The 33rd annual Alabama Coastal Cleanup will begin Saturday, Sept. 19 and continue through Sunday, Sept. 27. Angela Underwood with the State Lands Division’s Coastal Section of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) said spreading the event out over eight days gives volunteers and staff the space and time they need to stay safe from COVID-19.

“The biggest adjustment is giving people more time to get out and participate in the cleanup so everybody is not necessarily crowded in one space at one time,” Underwood said. “On the 19th, we are asking groups to send one representative from their group to pick up supplies and wear face coverings while picking up those supplies, then practice safe social distancing while cleaning up, especially if they are around people not from their household.”

2020 Alabama Coastal Cleanup will have a few changes from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

The Alabama Coastal Cleanup is part of the International Coastal Cleanup, an annual effort to remove marine debris from coastal waters around the world. In 2019, approximately 5,000 volunteers removed more than 30,000 pounds of trash from Alabama’s coastline and waterways.

“I want to keep seeing people get involved every year and understand the problems we have with marine debris,” Underwood said. “I would love to see some of our volunteers get more involved in the educational aspect of teaching people why marine debris is so detrimental to our natural resources and our economy.”

This year, ADCNR has partnered with Alabama People Against a Littered State (ALPALS) to organize the event. Spencer Ryan, executive director of ALPALS, is looking forward to the event despite changes brought by the pandemic.

“We’re excited about it,” Ryan said. “It’s going to be different. It’s going to be a challenge, but we met early enough to where a lot of good plans were put into effect.”

Ryan said volunteers are needed on land and on the water at cleanup sites in Mobile and Baldwin counties. Participants will receive a T-shirt and basic cleanup supplies. Event organizers will provide masks for up to 5,000 volunteers.

“I’m looking for a huge turnout,” Ryan said. “I think people have been shut up enough. I think they’re ready to do something positive. I think the coastal cleanup each year brings that out in people.”

Organizers are recommending participants use the Ocean Conservancy’s Clean Swell mobile app to tally their debris data. Underwood said this will allow them to receive data faster than in years past.

“We normally hand out close to 5,000 paper data cards each year so that people can take data on the things they are cleaning,” Underwood said. “We don’t want volunteers to handle data cards, and we don’t want to handle them as they come back in. It just seemed like the right thing to do. We still get the data and it’s better on our resources.”

The 2020 Alabama Coastal Cleanup is sponsored by Poarch Band of Creek Indians, Alabama People Against A Littered State (ALPALS), Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Ike’s Beach Service, Bebo’s, Coastal Conservation Association of Alabama (CCAA), Alabama Power, Lulu’s, City of Gulf Shores, Gulf Shores Utility Board, City of Orange Beach, Riveria Utilities, Baldwin EMC, Flora-Bama, Evonik, Compass Media, Coast 360, Baldwin County Sewer Service, Alabama Department of Transportation, ALFA, Coca-Cola, Vulcan Materials, Honda Manufacturing of Alabama, Alabama Farmers Cooperative, Association of County Commissions of Alabama, The Ocean Conservancy, Gulf Shores/Orange Beach Tourism, Osprey Initiative, Thompson Engineering, Weeks Bay Foundation, Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and Paddle the Gulf.

“We’re the only state that does it with corporate sponsorship money,” Ryan said. “I think that’s the reason why we continue to be one of the most successful coastal cleanups in the country. Our corporate sponsors make that possible.”

For more information about the coastal zones, zone captains, start times and safety tips, visit AlabamaCoastalCleanup.com or call 251-928-9792. You can also follow the Alabama Coastal Cleanup on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AlabamaCoastalCleanup.

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