“I’ve found another needle!” shouted 13-year-old Isaias Vega from a jetty along the Bronx Greenway.
His 15-year-old sister noted the needle on her data sheet and it was added to the pile collecting on the bank.
Around them, a handful of volunteers worked to free all manner of plastics from the shoreline as part of a coastal clean up led by environment agency the Bronx River Alliance.
Who cleans the Bronx Greenway, a new stretch of coastline pathways in Soundview? No one, according to the state department for parks. That job falls to volunteers who, after tropical storm Irene, are finding the task a little too much to handle.
The Greenway was opened in 2008 and has been in a state of disorder since Hurricane Irene, which kicked up storm surges between seven and 15 feet, submerging large chunks of the coastline. The surges dumped plastic packaging from Hunts Point Terminal Market in the backyards of Soundview residents and the paths surrounding Soundview Park.
According to the state Parks department, the Greenway is the responsibility of local park rangers who in reality have little time to dedicate to clean-ups. Without volunteers like the Vegas family, the contaminated coastline would be left to fester.
The local community often has other priorities, too. “Last year Friends of Soundview Park organized clean ups every Sunday, but this year that time has been given over to cultural activities,” said Carlos Martinez of the government’s Partnership for Parks.
When volunteers do come, they are shocked by what they see. On Saturday Sept. 24, the Bronx River Alliance gathered help from various charities including faith-based youth group YMPJ, education charity Build On and Friends Of Soundview Park.
“Normally we see litter, but this year there were a lot of things washed up,” said Alliance ecology director Robin Kriesberg. Volunteers worked for three hours to disentangle needles, six pack rings, tampons and styrofoam from the banks of the river.
Ocean Conservancy, the not-for-profit behind the annual event, provided volunteers with standardized data cards to record every single item of debris in categories ranging from bottle tops to shotgun shells. The cards are sent in and logged for an annual report on global marine debris.
“We’re also teaching kids about packaging and littering,” said Martinez. “So next time they have junk food they think twice about throwing the packaging on the floor.”
Nilka Martell, has been volunteering with Partnership for Parks since she lost her job as a paralegal secretary last December. She thinks the clean up is good for her children Isaias and Lia Lynn. “It keeps them off the streets, the TV and the internet,” Martell said.
Many volunteers were dismayed at the state of the coastline. “We have to do clean ups all the time, one weekend is not enough,” said Ashley Quiles, volunteer co-ordinator from the Bronx Alliance, as she gathered everyone for a debrief at noon. Along the jetties, a thick covering of colored plastics remained mashed into the mud.