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Jen Kennedy, co-founder of the Blue Oceans Society, shows a group of Saturday?s beach cleanup volunteers one of the small plastic discs that washed into the ocean when the Hooksett wastewater treatment plant overflowed after a heavy rainstorm in March 2011. (Barbara Taormina Photo)

Seacoast group picks up, until the coast is clear

About two dozen volunteers ignored the cold rain and wind to scavenge for trash on Jenness State Beach in Rye Saturday morning.

“By picking up the trash, we're making the ocean safer for wildlife,” said Jen Kennedy, a co-founder of the Blue Ocean Society, a Portsmouth-based marine conservation group that organizes monthly cleanups. “And this is scientific research for us.”

Since 2001, Kennedy and Blue Oceans has been working with volunteers to clean up New Hampshire's coast. The group has been compiling information on marine debris for the past seven years.

With more than 1,120 beach cleanups under their belt, volunteers have removed more than 53,000 pounds of assorted debris. Saturday's cleanup on Jenness Beach added another 20 pounds of cigarette butts, plastic bags, scraps of rope and dog waste.

Along with a pair of plastic gloves and a collection bag, Kennedy gives volunteers a checklist to record exactly what type of waste they find. On Saturday, volunteers picked up 58 cigarette butts to add to the 197,639 that have already been collected.

“Cigarette butts, bottle caps and cans are the big things,” said Kennedy.

Kennedy also has years of data on floating debris observed from the decks of local whale watch boats. Tracking the trash allows Blue Ocean to identify some of the sources. Once they have an idea of where debris is coming from, the organization can launch outreach and awareness programs to try to prevent marine debris.

Blue Ocean cleanups have recorded and removed 5,200 lobster traps, 4,943 pieces of fishing line and 4,341 scraps of fishing net.

“Derelict fishing gear is also a problem and we have been working with fisherman to find was to solve the problem,” said Kennedy.

One of those solutions has been the NH Marine Waste to Energy Project, funded by the NH Sea Grant program and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Abandoned fishing gear is now being collected in a special Dumpster at the Yankee Fishermen's Cooperative in Seabrook. That waste is trucked to Wheelabrator Technologies in North Andover, Mass., a regional incinerator that generates power by burning waste.

Several of the volunteers who came from Durham, Dover, Pelham and as far away as Manchester, said they were pitching in to clean because of worries about how the trash affects wildlife.

“Cleaning the beach makes it safer for the animals,” said Taylor Foulds of Pelham, who was at the beach with her dad, Boyd, and sister, Jordan.

According to NOAA's Marine Debris program, plastic never completely degrades in the ocean, it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Scientists are now looking at fish and other animals that consume microscopic pieces of plastic to see if any of the chemicals are leaching into their bodies.

A large contingent of students from the University of New Hampshire were also at Jenness Beach shivering and scouting for trash.

“We are part of a coed community service fraternity,” explained Greta Devolder.

Kennedy has managed to enlist more than 15,000 volunteers for beach cleanups over the years. “Anyone from a baby to a senior can play a part,” she said. “The best thing is people are getting out to appreciate the beaches and the ocean.”

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