Click the video above to view. Video created by Lindsey Buckman for the Anti Littering campaign developed by ACT's Billy Weiland.
I have listened to the Island in ways I never thought possible. Assateague is a humbling place, and it offers solace to those that listen and respect its ways. Since joining ACT, I have found myself in a position to stand in defense of Assateague, and have therefore initiated a campaign to clean the northern end of the Island. Residing on the south side of the Ocean City inlet, this northern most extent of Assateague is in dire need of a trash/anti littering campaign that will not only serve to clean this part of the National Park, but bring awareness to the littering and trash issue that exists throughout the Delmarva region.
The trash issue on this section of beach has been neglected for some time, and it needs to be addressed. To put into perspective the amount of litter that has accumulated on Assateague Island’s north point, lets rewind a decade or so. Through middle school and high school, this part of Assateague, referenced as The Wedge, was a place to escape the crowds that fill the more easily accessible areas of the Island. It was a place I would often paddle over to for surf sessions along the jetty when winds were unfavorable in town. It is the postcard image of Assateague Island. With a complex dune system, abundant wild life, and south swells that wedge off the jetty and offer one of the better left hand surf breaks in the area, this part of Assateague is a haven and refugee that deserves our attention. I moved back last February and made the paddle over to the wedge sometime in March last year. It was the first time I’d been back on the north point since I moved away. Sprinting across the dunes toward the ocean, I was shocked to see the amount of trash that has accumulated along the high tide lines and back dunes. The amount of litter collecting on this part of the beach is unacceptable by any standard.
Throughout my life I have come to find that there is no better way to develop a relation with Nature than by striving to understand its many ways, and working to ensure the health of the Planet. In doing so, I have developed respect for myself, my peers, and an even deeper respect for the Earth.
Acknowledging all that the Ocean has provided me, I believe it is my responsibility to help protect it from the many challenges it faces. The opportunity I have to make a difference and positively influence something as magical as Nature is a privilege I feel more than fortunate to have. At ACT, I have had the chance to build a platform, The Marsh, that hosts stories to inspire people to get back to Nature through adventure, literature, and the arts. I want everyone to develop the deep level of respect I’ve found for this Earth. In doing so, I firmly believe we all will find common ground and the Land we walk on will be the better for it.
This campaign to clean the north point of Assateague Island National Seashore, and bring awareness to the littering and excessive waste issues that the coastal environment of this area faces has become a focal point in my life.
Though my debut back in the water is several weeks away, I have remained on the water. This past February, my girlfriend and local Nature photographer Lindsey Buckman and I began making kayak trips across Sinepuxent Bay to the north point of Assateague. In just two trips, two people and two kayaks removed nearly 120 pounds of litter.
I have spent a good deal of time on this part of Assateague. Surfing has captured the bulk of my time on the north point, but the reflecting and thinking that I’ve done there has proven just as beneficial. During a solo trash sweep, I began developing a theory. I noticed that there was a visible age difference between litter on the part of the beach adjacent to the inlet, and the litter existing in the dunes. The portion of beach adjacent to the inlet is collecting newer trash as the wave and tide action pushes the litter in from Ocean City and West Ocean City. Most of the older trash exists in the dune system, a couple hundred yards south of this collection of newer trash. Within the dune system, there are several prominent washouts. They are areas where rain, wind, and high surf has eroded and washed out sections of dune and exposed relic trash. These areas are littered with miniscule plastics and artificial debris. The majority of litter in these washouts is visibly older than the trash washing up on the very north tip of the beach. I believe the trash that is appearing in these washouts has remained on the island for years, reappearing in areas where sand migrates and reveals the artificial debris beneath the dunes.
With excessive dune erosion occurring on the north point, a vertical profile view of the dunes is visible, revealing not just the depositional strata of the dune, but the litter that exists within it. I found a piece of foam embedded in one of these eroded dunes. Buried beneath two feet of sand, plant roots had begun growing through the foam. The vegetation growing above the foam at this particular location is approximately two years old. So, my theory here is that the piece of styrofoam in the picture can be dated by adding the two years or so it took for that vegetation to grow above it, plus the time it took for the two feet of sand deposition to bury the foam. What this tells me is that the north point of Assateague has quite a history of trash beneath its dune system, arriving by way of the tides and winds carrying it from Ocean City, and the negligence of some that visit this part of the island.
The first photo is a single milk carton I found in the back dunes. Note how it started off in two pieces. The second photo shows how that one piece of plastic, after years of being on the island, has deteriorated and its chemical components have worn down. It results in the plastic breaking into puzzle pieces like that shown in my hand. Those little pieces eventually get buried in the dune system where they remain for years.
As we continue to build this campaign, we look forward to working with the National Park Service, and community members who wish to volunteer with ACT, as we clean our beloved Island and bring awareness to the littering and trash issues affecting our waterways and coastal landscape.
I would like to thank Lindsey Buckman, photographer and owner of Assateague Farm, for creating the video in this post, and the time she has put in as we build this campaign together. She is an amazing human, and I look forward to many more adventures with her as we work to bring people back to Nature.
Last week I had the privilege of taking to the skies, and I must say, the rawness with which Assateague and the surrounding coastal landscape exemplifies this time of year is astounding. At 2,000 feet above, the desolate, wild image that the Island of Assateague and our Coastal Bays portray only deepened the respect I have for this area’s coastal ecosystem. The effect these cold winter months have on the islands, marshes, and wildlife of Maryland is nothing short of amazing. From above, the image is an embodiment of Mother Nature. With chunks of ice floating on the surface water at the mercy of the wind and tides, vegetation that has gone dormant as it awaits longer days ahead, and beaches absent of the crowds they are often associated with, one would be convinced they have found a piece of coastal wilderness lost in time. I am drawn to this area because of the beauty in the solitude it offers.
After a brief fly over of the Island, our flight itinerary took us further inland. The image from above shifted, and the peace of mind that a natural landscape offers was replaced by a sense of disappointment. The purpose of our flight was to capture aerial views and geographic coordinates of poultry factories in the area. Referred to as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), these mammoth poultry factories are spreading across Delmarva at an alarming rate. The issue isn’t new, and is in fact a main campaign at Assateague Coastal Trust as we vigilantly work to protect water quality, the health of our communities, and the health of the coastal ecosystem from agricultural pollution.
Peering out of that tiny plane window, I saw a landscape scarred by the hand of man. We’ve all seen these factories. Take a Sunday drive down the many back country roads, and you would be hard pressed to not notice the metal chambers sprawling across the majority of the open fields. Looking at the CAFOs from above, I am struck with emotion similar to that which I feel when passing by them on the ground. These huge industrial sized poultry CAFO’s are not just unpleasant, they are repulsive. They are creeping into our communities, and they are threatening the very land and waterways to which we owe our deepest respect. It is the land and rich coastal ecosystem of this area that has provided every resident that calls this place home the opportunity to flourish in such a remarkable environment.
With a birds eye view, I also note just how close these CAFO’s are to a place that has given people of this area and afar so much. On land, the proximity of these CAFOs to Maryland’s coastal bays isn’t as clear. Above the canopy of trees, however, it truly is terrifying to acknowledge the encroachment of the poultry industry on our coastal landscape. For those that doubt the problem at hand, I urge them to take a brief glance at any recent aerial photograph of the area. Navigate the region for five minutes on Google Earth. Poultry CAFO’s are taking over our rich land at the expense of our communities, wildlife, and water quality. What I saw on that flight was an industry driven by profit, slowly encroaching on a Land that is priceless.
I wonder how it might look if the massive poultry houses plaguing this area were actually small family farms. The poultry industry sells the public with an image reminiscent of the good American life, complete with a red farm house and rustic wood fence surrounding a country plot of roaming farm animals. The real image is that of massive metal buildings that have scarred this region physically and mentally. So, I would like to ask big chicken, what happened to so many of the small family farms I once knew in this area? Like the wise artist Graham Nash said, “my advise to you is to not take advice from the dealers who are handing out the cards.”
It is time to recapture the essence of this Land, and stand in defense of the Eastern Shore for the beauty it holds and the beauty it’s capable of procuring.
The Eastern Shore is my home. I left it nine years ago and returned last February. Though I have been back on my home turf in Assateague for a year now, it only took a few days upon my return to acknowledge the many problems big poultry is inflicting on our communities, the land, and the wildlife. Let's take a stand.
Please feel free to visit ACT's Community Healthy Air Act (CHAA) page to learn how ACT is working to help local communities in their efforts to ensure CAFO emissions are regulated.