PHOTOS: Provincetown beach brigade collects trash on Cape Cod to celebrate Earth Day

PTown Monument Beach Clean
A beach cleaner walks across the breakwater during the 2022 Earth Day Beach Clean in Provincetown, Massachusetts. (Fiona Skeggs/ MEDILL)

By Fiona Skeggs
Medill Reports

The sound of chatter filled the air on a quiet spring morning in Provincetown, Massachusetts, as people greeted one another, donned rubber boots and distributed gloves, buckets and knives among the crowd.

Gathered at the rotary on the outskirts of town on the morning of April 22, volunteers stuffed pockets with garbage bags in preparation for the 2022 Earth Day Beach Clean. Laura Ludwig from the Center for Coastal Studies organized the event and gave a quick safety briefing before the cleanup crew dispersed over the rocks, eager to get started.

“You’ll find traps. You’ll find canisters. You’ll find boat parts. You’ll find cushions, boots, everything,” says Laura Ludwig (right), director of the Marine Debris and Plastics Program at the Center for Coastal Studies, as she hands out gloves, knives, garbage bags and plastic totes to volunteers ahead of the Earth Day Beach Clean on April 22, 2022, in Provincetown, Massachusetts. (Fiona Skeggs/ MEDILL)

Image Description: A group of 10 people, dressed in hats and winter jackets, gather around a silver pick-up truck. On the bed of the truck a lady, wearing maroon pants and a gray sweater, hands out black garbage bags to people.

Empty pails sit on the sidewalk amid shouts of “I recognize that face” and “Good to see you again!” Beach clean regulars greeted one another before setting out. Eager volunteers, equipped with gloves and garbage bags, grabbed buckets and showed off home-made trash collecting receptacles. (Fiona Skeggs/MEDILL)

Image Description: Eleven plastic buckets sit empty on the ground. Most are white with black and red lettering; one is black, and another is blue. Some have chipped blue paint around the rim.

Volunteers, also known as the “debris brigade,” head out across the milelong causeway from the west end of Provincetown to reach Wood End Beach. A total of 35 people joined the cleanup, which Ludwig said was “a robust turnout given the difficulty” of the location. (Fiona Skeggs/ MEDILL)

Image Description: A group of five people walk across a rock causeway heading away from shore. Ahead of the group, another group of five people can be seen further along the wall. People are dressed in bright-colored jackets with winter hats on. Each person is carrying a plastic bucket. The rocks are pale brown on top of the wall and dark brown with seaweed on the side – the high-tide line. On both sides of the wall there is water, and in the distance there is a yellow sand beach and a small white lighthouse with a black roof.

Beach Clean
Volunteers clamber through thick shrubs and across spongy marsh to collect trash from the beach and surrounding dunes. Ludwig said much of the litter is brought in with the tide and blown into the bushes by the wind. (Fiona Skeggs/MEDILL)

Image Description: A man wearing blue jeans, a yellow rain jacket, gray gardening gloves and a light gray wide-brimmed hat reaches into a thicket of green and brown twigs. In his left hand he holds a white plastic bucket. Behind him a lady wearing a pink jacket and black baseball cap is standing and looking into the bushes on the ground.

Volunteers fill plastic barrels found on the beach with smaller items that are easily blown away by the wind and pile up larger, heavier items in caches above the high-tide line for collection by the Park Service. “We didn’t even make a dent,” said Ludwig (center), who is planning a four-day cleanup in the fall. She said the location of Wood End Beach and the ever-changing tides make the logistics of removing the trash difficult, but she is determined to return and continue cleanup efforts in this area. (Fiona Skeggs/ MEDILL)

Image Description: A group of six people stand talking on straw-filled ground, while a lady with curly brown hair dressed in black overalls, a pink long-sleeved shirt and brown rubber boots uses a white plastic bucket to squash down the contents of a red plastic barrel. Behind them, a man in blue jeans and a red shirt walks through green and gray bushes while clutching a white plastic bucket.

One of many caches of waste piled along the beach during the cleanup. Items collected include fishing line, rope, shoes, cushions, glass and plastic bottles, bottle caps, bait bags, lobster traps, trap identification tags, wetsuits, polystyrene, tires, fiberglass boat parts, tampon applicators, laundry detergent bottles and facemasks. The plastic becomes brittle in the sunlight and breaks into smaller pieces when touched; this makes removal tricky and time-consuming. (Fiona Skeggs/MEDILL)

Image Description: A pile of trash sits on the beach. There is a gray plastic bucket with a clear plastic water bottle, a red plastic tub and white plastic bags inside. Next to the gray bucket sits a white plastic bucket with blue and beige pieces of fishing rope inside. Behind the buckets is a full black garbage bag with a small hole on the side, and behind the bag is a plank of wood and some yellow spongy material.

Owen Davis, a high school junior, hauls a wetsuit onto a trash pile on the beach. He said he traveled 35 miles from Chatham, Massachusetts, to join the cleanup crew after Ludwig inspired him to volunteer while giving a talk to his student climate ambassador class the week before. (Fiona Skeggs/MEDILL)

Image Description: A teenage boy wearing a backward beige baseball cap, light gray sweater, beige trousers and blue gloves walks through bushes. On his sweater are the words “walls are meant for climbing.” In his left hand, held above his shoulder, he carries a black wetsuit.  Behind him are piles of trash, and on the floor beside him is a white plastic bucket.

A piece of yellow plastic tubing sticks out of a beach cleaner’s tote. The tubing first appeared on beaches along the cape in September 2021, and Ludwig traced its origin to a blasting project in Boston Harbor. She measures the length of every piece she finds and logs its location. Together with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Ludwig is working to prevent blast tubing, which is used to carry an explosive charge through the water to the rock below, from making its way into the ocean during future projects. According to a statement from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the tubing is inert and safe to handle. Program assistant Kathryn Brooks has established a citizen science portal allowing anyone who finds a piece of tubing to contribute to the dataset by recording the length and location of any tubing found. Local artist Sarah Thornington has created a life-size sculpture of a canary from pieces of tubing. “I want it to look like [it’s made from] shock cord,” she said. “I don’t want it to look like I drew it.” The canary will act as a warning to future projects of how far widespread the debris can travel. (Fiona Skeggs/MEDILL)

Image Description: A white plastic bucket with chipped blue paint on the rim sits on straw-like ground. Sticking out from the top of the bucket is a piece of thin yellow cable and a blue mesh bag. Behind the bucket a person standing and carrying a large white garbage bag looks at the ground.

Fiona Skeggs is a science and environmental journalism graduate student at Medill. You can follow her on Twitter at @fiona_skeggs.