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Microplastics Inundate Oregon Coast - 760 Pounds Taken Off One Beach

Published 01/24/2019 at 5:53 AM PDT
By Oregon Coast Beach Connection staff

Microplastics Inundate Oregon Coast - 760 Pounds Taken Off One Beach

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(Oregon Coast) – If there's enough really tiny pieces, they can become a gargantuan problem. (Microplastics photo above courtesy Newport Chapter of Surfrider Foundation).

That's just what happened after a run of recent storms on the Oregon coast, as an unusually large inundation of microplastics smothered many beaches. Some stretches of beach were a few layers high of the teeny, tiny stuff, and these patches were several feet to yards long and in width.

In one spot, volunteers dragged a staggering 760 pounds of microplastics off the beach in recent days.

At least one group of Portlanders were shocked enough to create a cleanup project of their on the north Oregon coast. In other areas, Oregon State Parks and Recreation (OPRD) and the Newport chapter of the Surfrider Foundation have been working frantically to clear the sands of the unsightly messes.

Charlie Plybon, a Newport resident and the Oregon Policy Manager for Surfrider, said this is stark and unusual.

Photo below: microplastics near Cannon Beach, courtesy Haystack Rock Awareness Program. More photos at bottom of article

“What we’re seeing occurring is a strong episode of marine plastics,” Plybon said. “It is quite substantial and more than a lot of people are used to seeing.”

It’s not out of the ordinary to have storms wash up a lot of debris, including microplastics. Plybon said heavy storm activity coupled with flood waters really did a number on the Oregon coast this time, however.

“Certain areas, like Otter Rock – and we see this at jetties and headlands as well – we just end up with circulation patterns and eddies in the water that provide for greater accumulation than in other areas,” Plybon said.

It was Otter Rock where the 760 pounds of tiny debris was found by Surfrider volunteers. That little area – which hosts the Devil’s Punchbowl – is an area where more debris is found on average, anyway. But nothing like this.

“This one caught some attention of folks in the media and rightly so,” Plybon said. “It’s a pretty big episode.”

After the tsunami in Japan in 2011, the Oregon coast saw surges of microplastics. There are simply episodes where this occurs. Plybon said much of the culprit in many instances has been big westerly flows as well. These are also responsible for other oddities like those runs of velella velella in winter and spring. Recently, many parts of the coast saw a run of moon jellyfish hit the beaches.

Behind this kind of environmental incident, however, is just the greater numbers of plastics.

“Plastics and plastic pollution are on the rise in general, with greater demand and greater consumption,” Plybon said.

Plybon and Surfrider have been the spearhead behind a lot of efforts towards changing this, both by policies regarding plastics and via cleanup efforts. The Newport chapter has been engaging its volunteers a lot by organizing debris removal parties, but it’s also heavily involved in educating the public.

“Our big flagstone has been our way of engaging the every day person in not just the problem but the also solution,” he said.

The group has been behind the scenes pushing state policy towards more plastic bag bans or cutting down on straws, but it’s also hoping to chip away on the supply end of things by trying to work with larger companies and the American Chemistry Council on alternatives and more choices.

This gnarly occurrence of plastics has resulted in some grassroots action, including Portland’s Kellie Southworth O'Shaughnessy. She and a handful of friends organized a beach cleanup in Cannon Beach this Sunday. It starts at 10 a.m. - meet at the access ramp in front of Wayfarer Restaurant.

“Bring gloves, bags, sifter/strainers and pack a lunch,” she said.

In Seaside, there was already a regularly cleanup scheduled.

The Treasure the Beach Cleanups happen every first Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. This one is put on by Seaside Aquarium, City of Seaside, Seaside Downtown Development Association, Inn at the Seashore, and SOLVE. Sign in at The Seashore Inn on the Beach, 60 N. Prom, Seaside. Get your bag, and when done, drop it by trash receptacle along the Prom.

How to help out? See the links above. Oregon Coast Lodgings for these events - Where to eat - Maps - Virtual Tours



 

More from Surfrider below, from the recent cleanup at Otter Rock:



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