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Participants sort and tally items collected for the clean up during a weigh-in event in 2021. (Credit: Estefany Molina)

Keep your eyes peeled for litter on your next beach walk and you could soon find yourself on a seal-watching cruise around Shinnecock Bay or creating your own gin at a Greenport distillery.

Both are among the prizes for the annual North Fork Beach Clean Up, which will kick off formally on Sept. 2. This marks the third year for the contest, which is organized by Estefany Molina, the local artist behind the Greenport Gazette.

She launched the event in 2020 in response to her own climate anxieties and desire to both raise awareness about beach litter and make a difference locally.

“We should be feeling the urgency of this,” she said. “[The clean up] brings people together and it does create accountability and awareness.”

The clean up encourages some friendly competition as teams are challenged to collect the most garbage at local beaches from Riverhead to Orient Point. This year, Molina is also encouraging participation at Shelter Island beaches. 

Sign ups are now open through Friday, Aug. 19 for teams between three and six people. The $85 donation fee includes burlap bags for collection, swag printed by Red Shed Print Shop, entry to weekly weigh-in events at Matchbook Distilling Co. in Greenport and the opportunity to win one of several group experiences.

This year’s prizes include a two-hour sail from Layla Sailing, an Atlantic Marine Conservation Society (AMSEAS) seal cruise, a boating workshop at Port of Egypt, a gin experience at Matchbook Distilling Co., a wine tasting at RG|NY and a chocolate experience from Disset Chocolate.

Individuals without a team are also encouraged to participate and could win a $25 gift card to Claudio’s Pizza if they collect at least five pounds of beach debris. All participants are invited to join a final weigh-in and after party at Little Creek Oysters with DJ Snoop.

The data is compiled for the Surfrider Foundation and the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society. (Credit: Estefany Molina)

“September is a good month to do this, after summer, after the swarm on all the beaches,” Molina explained.

Once the competition kicks off, each team will strategize on their own where they’ll collect beach debris for the week and fill out a worksheet that tracks what type of items they’re picking up from which beaches — data Molina said is important for organizations like Surfrider Long Island and AMSEAS, who are both sponsoring the initiative this year.

During weekly weigh-ins, the trash is weighed, sorted, tallied and then properly disposed of thanks to a dumpster donated by Mattituck Environmental. 

In 2020, there were 1,670 pounds of debris picked up, a number that grew to nearly 2,500 pounds last year.  

Of that tonnage, shoreline and recreational items like fishing line, netting, bottle caps and balloons were among the most commonly found items.

Molina is hoping to have at least six teams signed up and has set a goal of 3,000 pounds of trash cleaned for this year’s competition. Teams can register online and she even plans to have a booth at the final Alive on 25 event in Riverhead Aug. 12 to encourage participants to sign up.

Last year’s winners, a team dubbed “Nanny’s Treasures,” collected a whopping 805.6 pounds of beach debris and won the grand prize, a sunset cruise from Layla Sailing.

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