At first, it might look like the group of teenagers at Manorhaven Beach Park is out to have fun. They are all wearing life vests and each one slowly paddles out on Manhasset Bay while joking and laughing. But they aren’t out to goof off; they come out every Tuesday night to clean up the bay.
“I’ve always liked the environment, so I’ve always done a lot of volunteering,” said Max Goldstein, a rising junior at Paul D. Schreiber High School in Port Washington. “But this is definitely a great way to get me involved with what is going on in the water, and it is great because a lot of other people are coming too.”
Volunteers have gathered every Tuesday night since June and will continue — weather permitting — until October. The cleanups are sponsored by Residents Forward and Kostal Paddle, the latter of which provides the paddle boards and kayaks for volunteers to use.
The cleanup program is the brainchild of Port Washington resident Blake Pusey, who is currently a student at Oneonta College.
“I’ve worked with Kostal Paddle for [four years], and just working here and seeing all of the garbage here,” she said. “I swim in this water. We have kids that swim in this water. It’s disgusting … so I when it was slow at work, I would pick up trash.”
This year she decided to recruit other volunteers to clean up the coastline, which she calls Project Plastic. And she has changed her own habits, eliminating single-use plastics like plastic utensils, cups and straws from her life.
“I haven’t used single-use plastics … in probably three months,” she said. “At first it was difficult making the switch, but it’s so easy and I feel so much better now that I’m not leaving behind something that will harm the environment.
Pusey said she needed support from her boss at Kostal, J.M. Kostallas. The summer resident of Port (he spends his winters in Florida) said he supported Pusey’s idea from the get-go.
“I’ve been doing beach cleanups my entire life … we started Project Plastic this summer because it’s not just local residents who use the bay,” he said.
He said they usually get five to 10 volunteers each week and said that they’ve removed more than 400 pounds of debris from the bay and Port beaches since the beginning of June.
He said that the young volunteers were recruited from participants of Residents Forward’s Youth Climate Summit, which was held at the Port Washington Public Library in April. During the summit, participants learned about the environmental dangers facing local waterways.
“So why not focus on water during the summer?” Kostallas said.
The cleanups are also part of Residents Forward’s Clean Water Initiative, which is intended to educate and unite the Port Washington community with projects to ease pollution in local waterways.
Mindy Germain, the organization’s executive director, was also on hand Tuesday to take part in the cleanup.
“It creates this incredible awareness,” she said. “When the kids are in the water and they see the debris … when you connect with the water and appreciate it, you’re going to protect it.”
Reach reporter Luke Torrance by email at [email protected], by phone at 516-307-1045, ext. 214, or follow him on Twitter @LukeATorrance.