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Winona Hunter ’24 is interested in sustainability. She’s also from the landlocked state of Ohio. So, when her First-Year Seminar staff adviser Maggie Redfern invited her to participate in a community cleanup event at New London’s Ocean Beach Park, she jumped at the chance.
“It was my first trip to the beach and I absolutely loved it. I can’t wait to go back and walk along the trail and collect shells,” she said.
Hunter, who plans to major in environmental studies, was one of three students from the “Taming of American Rivers” First-Year Seminar who participated in the event with Redfern, the assistant director of the Arboretum and staff adviser for the course.
Redfern calculates a group of approximately 40 volunteers collected 2,570 pieces of trash weighing a total of 152 pounds during the Sept. 19 event, part of the statewide Connecticut Cleanup, which the nonprofit environmental group Save the Sound is sponsoring as part of the International Coastal Cleanup. Redfern helped organize the event at the request of 90-year-old Louise Fabrykiewicz ’81, who has been leading beach cleanups for the last 30 years.
“Ocean Beach, relatively speaking, is clean, but we still find plenty of stuff,” Fabrykiewicz told New London’s The Day newspaper.
“If it keeps up, we won't have sand anymore. We’ll just have remains of caffeine, nicotine,” she added.
Jack Aleksa ’24 regularly participates in trail cleanups in his home state of Colorado. He says he was excited to see the beach, and when he first arrived, he didn’t notice any trash at all.
“Once you started to look around you noticed the candy wrapper here, the cigarette there, some fishing line buried in the sand. It’s almost as if our eyes have filtered out the trash that was there,” said Aleksa, who is considering a mathematics major. “There were a surprising amount of cigarette butts, and they are right out in the open.”
Redfern says the group collected 886 cigarette butts, making them by far the most prevalent trash item on the beach. The most unusual? A 103-pound rail tie, likely from a roller coaster ride.
“That was surprising,” said Nicole Wright ’24, an aspiring environmental studies major.
“I really enjoy the way that beach cleanups are a very tangible way to help the environment,” she added. “I often feel like taking other steps to help protect the environment, like reducing the consumption of animal products, recycling, taking public transportation, etc., are valuable ways to make a difference, but you can't always see the direct impact they have. Going to a beach and picking up trash is a way to make a direct physical difference, and it definitely feels great to see the impact we make.”
In addition to making a difference, the event provided a safe, outdoor opportunity for some of Conn’s newest students to explore New London.
“My favorite part was definitely meeting members of the New London community,” Hunter said. “It was an absolute blast and I hope to do similar events in the future.”