By Donald Wittkowski
Janine and Wilfredo Chevere and their five children took a long look at their checklist and began naming the types of trash they found on Ocean City’s beaches Saturday morning.
One of their sons, Anteo, had just one word to describe it all: “Gross,” he said, frowning.
There were discarded cigarette butts, paper food wrappers, plastic shopping bags, pieces of wood, soda and beer bottles and even some broken glass.
But all of those cigarette butts and other litter had been picked up and tossed into trash bags by the Chevere family, making the Ocean City beaches that much cleaner.
The Cheveres were among more than 200 volunteers in Ocean City who took part in the annual fall “Beach Sweep” organized by the environmental group Clean Ocean Action in communities along the New Jersey coast.
Hoping to do their part, the environmentally conscious Cheveres put on some work gloves, grabbed a few trash bags and began collecting as much litter as they could find.
“When you come to the beach, you want it to be a perfect day. But when there’s trash on the beach, it messes up the entire day,” Wilfredo Chevere said.
Janine Chevere explained that it is particularly important for her family members to help keep their hometown clean. The Cheveres live in Ocean City.
“We want to give back to the community,” Janine Chevere said. “We always want to be able to use the beach, so this is our way of being grateful for what we have.”
Joining their parents for the beach cleanup were daughter, Paloma, 11, and sons Anteo, 19, Emile, 16, Omero, 13, and Oceano, 5.
All of the Beach Sweep volunteers were given a checklist to record all the trash they found. At the top of the Cheveres’ list were 55 cigarette butts.
“There were way too many cigarette butts,” Janine Chevere said.
Now in their 32nd year, the annual Beach Sweeps – held in both the fall and spring – have removed nearly 6 million pieces of litter from New Jersey’s coast, parks, rivers, lakes and other environmentally sensitive areas, according to Clean Ocean Action.
“Believe it or not, cigarette butts are not the No. 1 culprit. It’s plastics,” Charlotte Moyer, who served as a beach captain for Ocean City’s cleanup, said of all the litter collected across the state over three decades.
The beaches are the heart of Ocean City’s tourism industry, so the town wants them to look spotless, particularly when throngs of visitors arrive for the summer vacation season.
Moyer, who works as an office supervisor for the Ocean City Public Works Department, said Saturday’s contingent of between 200 and 225 volunteers was a strong turnout. The volunteers included a diverse group of families, children and 90 students from Rowan University in Glassboro.
“Particularly impressive were the very young children,” Moyer said. “There were three very little ones who gave up soccer this morning to come here, their mother said.”
Ocean City resident Gloria Scarano and her 14-year-old son, Gabe Doughty, picked up trash from the beaches, the dune grass and underneath the Boardwalk. They mostly found cigarette butts, plastic soda bottle caps and plastic cups, forks, knives and spoons.
Doughty, a freshman at Ocean City High School and member of the Key Club, said he hopes to leave the planet cleaner for future generations.
“Plus, we live here and would love to see it not be polluted,” he said of Ocean City’s beaches.
Gina Yaroli, Gianna Hill and Nicole Tota, all 18-year-old freshmen at Rowan University, picked up 170 cigarette butts from the beaches.
Yaroli, an environmental studies major who lives in Middletown, Monmouth County, is considering a career in ocean conservation after she graduates from college. One of her goals is to help clean up what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a vast area of the Pacific Ocean polluted with plastics, chemical sludge and other debris.
But for now, Yaroli and her fellow Rowan students are concentrating on keeping Ocean City’s beaches free of litter.
“It’s my passion to make sure that the ocean stays intact,” Yaroli said. “This is one of the small things we can do to help keep the environment clean.”