BELMAR, NJ — Under drizzly and dreary skies, a smaller-than-usual contingent of determined volunteers spent their morning yesterday doing something for Mother Nature.

Donning gloves, hats and raingear, they converged on Ocean Avenue in Belmar to participate in Clean Ocean Action’s 32nd annual Beach Sweeps. With trash bags and checklists in hand, they scoured the beach — and some even crawled under the boardwalk — to pick up debris and make a record of the items they collected.

While the inclement weather placed a damper on volunteer participation, those who did turn out offered a variety of reasons for their effort. Some were students fulfilling course requirements, others were members of local organizations or employees of companies with community service initiatives. And there were those individuals who simply wanted to do their part to clean up the beach.

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Regardless of why they came, many participants expressed their concern with people who litter the beach. “It just amazes me that people would just leave their garbage on the beach, when it’s one of our most beautiful assets,” said Brenda Skinner of the Oakhurst section of Ocean. “Who does that?”

Courtney Winston of Lake Como didn’t spend much of his time actually on the beach; he could be found under the boardwalk, scooping debris from areas hidden from view. “This is where you find trash you can’t see unless you’re under here,” he said, emerging with a pile of plastic cups, bottles, food wrappers and other miscellaneous items.  

And that’s the impetus behind Clean Ocean Action’s Beach Sweeps – to not only to reduce and eliminate sources of litter, but to calculate data about the debris collected, providing “a lifetime of data to make an difference for the ocean,” according to Highlands-based nonprofit. This information then is used to identify sources of pollution, monitor trends, and discover and promote solutions.

Belmar was among 23 municipalities in Monmouth County — and some 50 statewide, predominately along New Jersey’s 130-mile coastline — participating in the biannual event.

Plastics continue to be on the top of the debris heap, representing more than 81 percent of some 219,000 items collected statewide in 2016. While plastic is the material found in eight of the COA’s “Dirty Dozen,” cigarette filters, lumber pieces, paper pieces and cigar tips round out the list.