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Vol. 4, No. 3


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From cigarettes to cellophane: 
marine debris program tidies Boston's historic harbor

By Andi Rierden, Editor

In the early morning hours of a warm September morning, Captain Thomas Hosker steered the First Responder away from the dock at Black Falcon Terminal and headed for the open waters of Boston's inner harbor. He had followed the same course for weeks: Reserve Channel to Charlestown Navy Yard, over to East Boston and across to the downtown waterfront. After spending several hours scouring for debris along the old piers, piling fields and channels, he slowed the boat beneath the peaks of Rowes Wharf, one of the harbor's architectural landmarks. 

Photo: Andi Rierden/Gulf of Maine Times
Richard Wickenden fishes for trash.

"We've got a clump of fish netting behind us," Hosker called out to his deck hand Richard Wickenden. As the Captain looped the boat around until it faced a flotilla of sailboats, Wickenden poised himself for action. Working in swift motions, he skimmed his long metal pole along the water's surface, flicked the debris into his net, then cast it into one of four overstuffed trash barrels. All told, the mornings catch included logs, cellophane wrappers, nautical rope, fishnets, a loaf of French bread and a large black tricycle. Still, it couldn't hold muster to earlier excursions. 

"When we first started out, you couldn't even get a net into the water, the debris was so thick," the Captain said.

The two men were part of the Marine Debris Pilot Program launched in early July by the Boston Harbor Association (TBHA). Working in daily, eight-hour shifts until early this past October, the crew retrieved an estimated 300 barrels of floating small debris, 900 large pieces of six-to-10 foot (1.8-to-3 meters) debris, and 90 oversized pieces that needed to be towed in. The bulk of the trash contained wood from docks, piers and pilings, plastic and Styrofoam cups, bottles and containers, construction and boating debris, and a mass of cigarette butts and wrappers. Often the weight and size of the debris, such as a 20 foot (6 meter) cement dock found on the shores of Deer Island required extra muscle to haul it back to the terminal.

"It's a labor intensive effort," said Joan LeBlanc, an employee of the association, and project manager of the pilot program. She frequently accompanied the crew, mapping out trouble spots and calling property owners to ask them to remove rubbish from the water or shores. Overall, she said, the owners responded positively and took action.