How to do a Serious, Scientific
Beach Litter Survey and Clean-up
Things you need to organise in advance
- Establish your research site. To be scientifically meaningful,
and to enable other classes of students to survey the same place
in the future and determine changes, you must mark the site on
a map, record the latitude and longitude of the place, and draw
a small local map of the shoreline to be sure others will know
exactly where the survey was made.
- Plan to repeat the survey on a routine basis (e.g. 1 day a
week or a month) so you can establish patterns and trends in the
- Prepare the following items and make up a checklist so they
are all taken to the shore on the day of the survey:
Survey Forms with clip boards and
A supply of bags to put the rubbish in.
A snack with drinks
Sun Lotion, and hats for sun protection.
A camera to photograph the site before and after clean up
and any unusual objects.
- Divide the group into teams of four people, and give each
team a section of the mapped shore to survey. Place markers on
the beach to let each team know the limits of their search. Number
each section on the map and identify who is on the team surveying
it. You should have at least one supervisor for each twenty helpers.
- Get the support of local authorities and perhaps local business,
i.e. industry, commercial. You can always use extra helping hands
- Arrange for disposal of the rubbish you've collected. Rubbish
collected on clean ups is usually not suitable for recycling.
Be sure there is transport for the collected debris to the rubbish
dump, or arrange for a pick-up with your local council.
- Remember the check list of things to bring.
- Survey forms with clip boards and
- A map of the beach with designated survey zones.
- A supply of heavy duty trash bags to put the rubbish in.
- Rubber or leather work Gloves
- A snack with drinks
- Sun Lotion, and hats for sun protection.
- Insect Repellent
- Someone should bring a camera with film (or video) to record
- Safety First!
- Beware of dangerous items. If you find any large metal drums,
medical wastes, or anything you don't recognise, call the supervisor.
Do not open metal drums as they may contain hazardous chemicals.
- Wear gloves and shoes.
- Protect yourself from the sun.
- Be careful of glass, syringes, or other sharp objects.
- Work together not alone.
- Don't lift anything heavy.
- Dead, stranded or live entangled animals. Do not attempt to
free any live entangled animals notify your supervisor immediately
so that properly trained authorities can be contacted. If the
animal is entangled, identify or describe the animal and what
it is caught in on the Beach Cleanup Data Card. Take a photograph.
- Appoint on overall co-ordinator who knows all the details
of the beach clean-up, is easily identifiable, and will collect
all the survey forms at the end of the event.
- Make sure that all helpers:
- have their survey sheets and pens
- know which area they are going to clean and stay in it
- know who their supervisor/co-ordinator is.
- know where the rubbish collection point is.
- Check that you have your survey sheet, board, pen and rubbish
- Work in groups of four where 3 people pick up the rubbish
and the other records the information on the survey card. Stay
together. The primary goal is the scientific survey. Be as accurate
as you can. It's better to survey a smaller area well than to
clean a big area quickly.
- Carry out your beach clean-up and survey on a mid to low tide.
- Set a time limit, work fast but carefully.
- Be sure the survey sheet is filled out completely, with your
name, date, beach area number and other details written in. Count
items with tick marks in groups of five and record the total in
the box. Do not write words like "lots" or 'many".
Use numbers unless there really are too many to count.
- Don't count or collect natural items like driftwood or seaweed.
- Collect the survey sheets from everyone.
- Combine the information from one beach onto a single survey
sheet to get a total of all the different kinds of trash found.
Enter this information into a computer, if you have one.
- Prepare pie charts of the major categories of debris found:
plastic, paper, metal, organic.
- Identify the most abundant item on the beach (possibly either
small plastic beads used to manufacture plastic goods or filter
- Identify the most unusual single object found on the beach.
- Identify any dangerous waste found (medial wastes, toxic or
poisonous chemicals, broken glass).
- Compare debris collected on different days/ weeks, months,
or seasons. By resurveying, you might gain information about who
is littering the area, and when this happens. To be effective,
be sure the same area of beach is cleaned each time so the results
can be compared.
- Was the weather or season different? How could this change
the litter washed up?
- Is there more rubbish on work days or on holidays and weekends?
- Are some areas of the beach cleaner than others?
- Can you identify where is the litter coming from? Is it foreign
made? Is it local? From boats or from the shore? Do people bring
the litter to the beach or is it blown into the sea or washed
into the sea from the land? What percentage of the trash comes
from each source?
The Center for Marine Conservation in the United States co-ordinates
an international survey of Marine Debris. Island Care and Sea
Keepers provides the information from New Zealand.
- Prepare a report on your survey work and send it to Island
- Email a report to Island Care using the following format.
It is very important to follow this format exactly:
- To: Gael Arnold
E-Mail Address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: Survey Report
##, ##, ## Day, Month, Year (example 23/03/96)
##.## Degrees of Latitude South (Location of Beach)
###.## Degrees of Longitude East (Location of Beach)
#### Number of meters of shoreline surveyed
#### Total number of items Collected
#### Total number of Plastic Items
#### Total number of Foamed Plastic Items
#### Total number of Glass Items
#### Total number of Rubber Items
#### Total number of Metal Items
#### Total number of Paper Items
#### Total number of Wood Items
#### Total number of Cloth Items
## The most abundant single item
## The second most abundant Item
## The third most abundant Item
## The fourth most abundant Item
Location Name of Beach, coastal area or island
City Nearest town or city to study area
Surveyor Name of group or school that did the survey
Contact Name of person to contact
## Street Number
## Post Office Box
The scientific survey and beach clean-up is not an end in itself,
but a way of finding out where the litter comes from and convincing
people to alter their ways.
When a clear pattern begins to emerge on the types and sources
- Write a report , with recommendations, to the local council.
- Have the class prepare a report for the school assembly.
- Write an article on your findings in your local newspapers.
- Conduct an interview on a local radio station.
- If you identify a particular source of the litter, consider
inviting the person (s) to a meeting to discuss ways to prevent
further trashing of everyone's ocean. This might best be done
by writing an invitation to the meeting and sending along a copy
of your report.
Your efforts to make interesting reports will keep people interested
and informed on the problems of rubbish in the marine environment.
Also, by providing knowledge of your findings, your local community
may be encouraged to be more responsible when disposing of refuse.
They may also be encouraged to work together as a community by
providing further ideas on how best to help bring about a reduction
in rubbish entering the marine environment via street litter,
storm drains and casual and accidental litter on beaches.
Volunteers Do Count!
Cleaning up the seas is a job for everyone. Nobody likes to see
trash on our lovely beaches and nobody wants to kill sea life
by entanglement. It is everyone's responsibility to be sure trash,
especially plastics that do so much damage and last so long, is
properly disposed of.
Data collection helps to convince people the problems are real.
It can, if properly presented, change the way people think about
the oceans' ability to handle our rubbish!