For Lt. Colonel Bill Wheelehan of Washington, D.C., volunteering for the Center for Marine Conservation’s (CMC) 1997 International Coastal Cleanup was only the first step in his effort to protect the oceans and coastlines he loves. The 23 year Army veteran went on to single handedly initiate discussions with representatives of the Department of Defense, and persuaded the department to join the Center’s 1998 Cleanup – forging a partnership that might result in the largest growth of volunteers for the International Coastal Cleanup in the program’s history.

CMC’s International Coastal Cleanup Campaign, launched in 1986, is now the world’s largest volunteer effort on behalf of the marine environment. Volunteers number in the hundreds of thousands, representing more than 90 countries. Besides cleaner coastline, debris data from the annual event is used to promote ratification of an international treaty ending unlimited ocean dumping of solid wastes, and to convince shipping and cruise line officials to improve onboard systems for waste disposal. The cleanups have prompted other businesses, states, countries, and local communities to establish policies and take action to protect the marine environment.

Although not a cure for coastal pollution, CMC’s annual beach cleanups help reduce the volume of garbage that clutters our coasts and chokes and entangles marine animals. Many of the 45 million pieces of debris collected during the cleanups can be traced back to their source, indicating that between 60 and 80 percent of coastal debris originates on land, primarily from poor waste management and casual littering. This discovery has prompted CMC to create a new project called Model Communities, a campaign that will work with coastal communities interested in solving their coastal debris problems. The Model Communities project will be officially launched at the 1998 International Coastal Cleanup.