When Joan Hays says “every wave brings something with it,” she’s talking about more than that soothing sloshing sound.
She’s referring to the trash. Rope, plastic bottles, pieces of fishing nets, tires, chunks of docks from across the sea and much more.
This why Hays’ work is never done. The 82-year-old University Place resident loves hiking and kayaking on Washington’s coast and never visits without a trash bag.
On April 23 she plans to patrol a section of remote beach near Cape Alava with friends as part of the Washington Coast Cleanup organized by Washington CoastSavers. Taking part in the spring cleanup has become an annual tradition for Hays.
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CoastSavers is an alliance of service, recreation and advocacy groups interested in cleaning the state’s shores. Registration for the April 23 event recently opened. Volunteers can sign up at coastsavers.org.
“It is really satisfying to see a huge dumpster overflowing with trash,” Hays said, “because you know that stuff isn’t on the beach anymore.”
Hays, who also volunteers and collects trash at Mount Rainier National Park, recently took a few minutes to answer questions about the coastal cleanup program.
Q: How did you find out about the CoastSavers cleanups?
A: (Friend) Vern Brown and I both belong to The Mountaineers. One of the things we espouse is doing volunteer work for the state of Washington. That is one of the ways we can volunteer to help our state. I got enthused about it. I like to kayak and hike and camp, so it is a natural.
Q: What is a typical day like?
A: We assemble in the morning (about 8 a.m.) and then we divide into groups of 8-12 and hike our section of the beach. We hike down the beach, spotting items and determining what we are going to need pick up on the way back.
Sometimes we get creative and tie things together with rope that we find. Or we hang trash bags from limbs so we can carry them between two people. We tie things to our packs. We are usually back by 5-6 p.m. depending on how much trash is out there. … And we’re usually pretty exhausted.
Q: What’s one of the most common pieces of trash you come across?
We see a lot of small pieces of plastic. Hard plastic like the type used for lunch boxes. Some are no bigger than a fingernail. They are bright colors so they are attractive to birds and fish and sea lions. They eat it, and they are not getting nutrition, and young birds could die. So we are picking up even the small bits of plastic.
Q: What’s the most peculiar thing you’ve found?
A: Last fall we found an easy chair just sitting there. It definitely didn’t look like it belonged on a ship. I don’t have any idea how it got there. We were on a remote beach. We had to leave it (crews report items that are too heavy to carry). I don’t know how they would get it out of there.
Q: How would you recommend people help if they can’t make the event?
A: Any time you are backpacking or visiting the coast, make sure you take a big trash bag and pick things up as you hike along. Every trip to the coast should be a cleanup.
Q: Cleaning the same section of beach over and over, does it ever get discouraging?
A: It’s kind of like doing dishes or ironing. You do it, and you know you’ll have to do it again. We’re with friends and it’s always adventure. But it would be satisfying even if you were doing it alone.
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Washington Coast Cleanup
When: April 23.
Where: Dozens of beaches from the Long Beach Peninsula to the Olympic Peninsula.
Washington CoastSavers: A coalition of groups with an interest in keep beaches clean. Founding members include Surfrider Foundation, Lions Club International, Discover Your Northwest, Grass Roots Garbage Gang, Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, Olympic National Park, NOAA Marine Debris Program, the Mountaineers, Lions Club International and Washington State Parks.
Volunteer: Sing up at coastsavers.org.