Written by Elizabeth Roberts

In 2015, while exploring critical habitat areas for the Western Snowy Plover, I saw large accumulations of marine debris within the Western Snowy plover habitat restoration areas and surrounding estuary within the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area. Having worked on large-scale marine debris removal projects in the Gulf of Alaska, I saw a need to implement what I had learned working in remote locations to get volunteers out to these hard-to-access areas for a concentrated clean-up effort.  After years of personally monitoring these sites and removing what I could, I was finally able to form a partnership with Oregon Shores, thanks to Jesse Jones taking an interest in my work. Together, we reached out to the US Forest Service in 2022 and began to formulate a plan to transport volunteers to three sites over three days after the 2023 predicted king tides were over. The project was a success, and we were able to remove several truckloads of debris- all of which filled a Uhaul box truck and went to Washed Ashore in Bandon to be converted into educational art. 

Having built on our successes in 2023, we returned to the Oregon Dunes National Recreation Area this year to revisit two of the same sites from last year and a new site. One of our sites from last year was inaccessible due to flooding, so we decided to move to a new location that is also known for marine debris accumulation. All of our volunteers this year were returning volunteers from last year. 

On Thursday, February 15th, we met at the Wax Myrtle Campground at Siltcoos at 8:30 a.m., where two USFS employees transported five volunteers and two Oregon Shores staff to the north of Tahkenitch Creek. Due to unfavorable weather conditions, we concluded the clean-up by lunchtime. Despite the adverse weather, we still managed to collect a considerable amount of debris within that four-hour time frame. Thankfully, this site was not heavily impacted by marine debris accumulation at the time.  

On Friday, February 16th, we met at 9:00 a.m. at the Umpqua Beach Day Use Area in Winchester Bay, where two USFS employees transported five volunteers and one Oregon Shores staff to the north side of Tenmile Creek. This site was our most impacted site two years in a row. Thanks to favorable weather conditions, we were able to spend a full day removing debris from both the Snowy Plover HRA (habitat restoration area) as well as the surrounding estuary, well into the evening. We removed three very full truckloads from this site. There was still quite a bit of debris remaining in the estuary that we did not have time to collect, as was the case last year. Discussions are occurring to return in September with US Fish & Wildlife staff after plover nesting season, as they are looking for a team-building volunteer opportunity. This would be a good time to return, as much of the flooding in the grassy marsh areas will have dried out over the summer. Historically there is a great deal of accumulation in this area due to winter high water events.

Saturday, February 17th, we met at 9:00 a.m. at the Forest Service office in Reedsport where two USFS employees transported five volunteers and one Oregon Shores staff to the north side of the Umpqua River via Sparrow Park Road. The weather was good, and we filled both truck beds with debris. One of the more unexpected items we found that day was a chest freezer that we were able to remove and load into a truck. This year, we ended up staging all of the debris in a single location on Forest Service property near Wax Myrtle Campground behind a gate and out of the public eye. Last year, debris was staged for pick up at each site, requiring Washed Ashore to travel to three locations to collect. This left debris exposed in public spaces for several days until it could be retrieved. Following up with our volunteers at the end of each day, everyone shared how much they enjoyed the experience and stated their interest in returning to participate again next year.

I would like to express my immense gratitude to everyone who helped make this project possible. Thank you, Oregon Shores, for seeing the value in my work and supporting my efforts to bring this project to life. I would especially like to thank  Cindy Burns and her staff at the US Forest Service. Without their support, this project would not have been possible. Thank you, Washed Ashore, for retrieving the debris we collected to make Art to Save the Sea and keeping it out of the landfill. Last but not least, a very special thank you to all of the volunteers who dedicated their time and effort to making this project a huge success. Together, we were able to remove just over 1500 pounds of marine debris from critical Western Snowy Plover habitat! I look forward to seeing them all again next year and continuing the momentum we have created.