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Groups team up on coastal cleanup in two states

Marine trades associations and environmental groups in Connecticut and Rhode Island announced a partnership Thursday to help keep shorelines clear of debris.

Thanks to a $70,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Rhode Island-based Clean The Bay and Save The Bay are extending their services into Connecticut in a partnership with Clean Up Sound and Harbors, based in Stonington, Conn. Together, the non-profit organizations are continuing an effort to keep the nation’s coastline free of large debris.

The grant is targeted at regional waters from the Pawcatuck River, Little Narragansett Bay and Watch Hill in Rhode Island, to Stonington Harbor and the entire Mystic River shoreline in Connecticut. The joint effort between the states will result in more than 42 nautical miles of shoreline being swept to remove an estimated 72 tons of debris. About 3 acres of habitat are expected to be restored.

Andy Tyska, owner of Bristol Marine, president of the Rhode Island Marine Trades Association and a Clean The Bay board member, spoke at a press conference Thursday about the creative use of federal funding and put his message in simple terms — “pick things up and put them down” — which essentially is the goal: removing large pieces of debris that are polluting the water and jeopardizing the safety of people and marine life, as well as the future of the marine industry, and disposing of the trash in the most efficient way. State permits will help ensure that this is done correctly and cost-efficiently.

Bryan Deangelis, a fishery biologist and habitat restoration specialist at NOAA, stressed the significance of the effort at the press conference, not only for environmental and human health reasons but also for its importance to the economy. This will be the fifth time NOAA has funded the program and Deangelis supports the plan to continue doing so because Save The Bay has been a model partner.

Save The Bay and Clean The Bay formed a partnership in 2009, and their signature program is Project Clean Sweep. Clean Sweep V starts today. Two thousand tons of debris have already been removed from Rhode Island, Connecticut and parts of the Massachusetts coastline.

Cleanup efforts will be led by Capt. Kent Dresser, executive director of Clean The Bay, and his crew, along with volunteers, who will remove abandoned boats and docks, as well as large pieces of plastic, metal, tires and furniture. Kent plans to use a mechanical landing craft that can maneuver in shallow water, along with low-impact tools and equipment.

Clean Up Sound and Harbors, which is devoted to protecting Fishers Island Sound and its surrounding rivers, inlets and harbors by doing extensive water-quality testing, will identify the locations in need of attention. Harbormasters, the United Water Co. and others will offer assistance.

State and federal lawmakers in Connecticut and Rhode Island and town officials are joining to support the work of Clean Up Sound and Harbors and welcoming the other two groups.

— Sabrina Stedman