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Volunteers pulled 7M pounds of trash from waterways
07 June 2007
by Brian Skoloff

Florida, USA: Smokers are littering shorelines and waterways worldwide with millions of cigarettes, and their filters topped the list of trash items culled during last year's annual international coastal cleanup, according to a new report.

More than 350,000 volunteers removed about 7 million pounds of debris from 34,500 miles of coastlines and waterways, along with ocean, river and lake bottoms, The Ocean Conservancy said in the report, released Thursday.

Sixty-eight countries participated in the daylong cleanup last September. This year's cleanup is set for Sept. 15.

Of the 7.7 million items of debris collected worldwide in 2006, cigarettes and cigarette butts accounted for roughly 1.9 million, the sixth consecutive year they have topped the list. Coming in second at about 768,000 items were food wrappers and containers that can be extremely dangerous to wildlife.

"A plastic sandwich bag floating in the ocean may look like a jellyfish, a favorite food of sea turtles," said Sonya Besteiro, the cleanup project manager. "If a sea turtle ingests a plastic bag it may feel full and stop eating, which results in starvation. Or the bag could block the animal's digestive system and cause death."

During the 2006 cleanup, volunteers found 1,074 animals entangled in debris, including fishing line and nets. Only one of those animals survived _ a female seal found in Hobe Sound.

Discarded fishing gear and plastic debris kill an average of more than 1 million sea birds and more than 100,000 marine mammals and sea turtles each year, the conservancy estimates.

Last week, an endangered Hawaiian monk seal drowned after becoming entangled in a fishing net off Oahu. In October, Hawaiian wildlife officials found a 5-month-old monk seal dead in another net.

"With only 1,200 monk seals left, this is such a terrible loss," said Christine Woolaway, who coordinates the coastal cleanup in Hawaii, the state with the most threatened and endangered species at 329.

Since 1986, more than 6.5 million volunteers in the project have removed 116 million pounds of trash from beaches and waterways in 127 countries, according to the conservancy, a Washington-based environmental advocacy group.

The United States had the most participants in 2006, according to the report, with 182,100 people cleaning about 4.1 million pounds of trash from 10,550 miles of waterways and coastlines.

Canada saw the second best participation with about 26,550 people, followed by the Philippines, where 25,500 volunteers helped out.

California and Florida saw the most participation in the U.S., with about 56,000 and 28,000 people participating, respectively. The two states collectively removed about 1.5 million pounds of debris over 4,600 miles of shorelines and waterways.