(Patrick D. Rosso/Boston.com/2013)
With fog engulfing the Boston Harbor, a skiff slowly patrolled its murky waters Wednesday morning searching for trash.
Part of The Boston Harbor Association’s Marine Debris Cleanup Program, the boat and its two crew members, armed with nets, will search the harbor and surrounding waterways three to four days a week until mid-September for trash.
“[The program] started with the hazard that occurred to swimmers and boaters when you have all this debris in the harbor,” explained Vivien Li, the president of The Boston Harbor Association, the nonprofit clean water advocacy group that organizes the program.
Started in 2000, it costs an estimated $40,000 a year to cleanup and dispose of the trash scooped out by the crew. Each year an estimated 10-15 tons of debris are removed from the waters and since the program’s founding more than 265 tons of debris have been removed, according to organizers.
Funded by a variety of groups including the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, Massport, the City of Boston, and the Eastern Salt Company, organizers say the program is working and the harbor is cleaner than ever.
“We continue our education program with new boaters and with young people to make sure they don’t contribute to the debris in the harbor,” said Li. “We are also working with property owners, construction sites, and construction companies to be sure that they manage the construction materials they have on land so it doesn’t end up in the harbor after a storm.”
Crews scoop up Dunkin Donuts’ cups, plastic bags, and the occasional baseball cap blown off a tourist’s head and Li said since the program has started they’ve begun seeing less trash in the harbor. Although there may be less paper cups and cigarette butts, Li added the group is now dealing with the pilings and wood debris that find their way into the harbor after storms.
“More than a decade ago there was a lot more stuff in the harbor,” said Li. “Now there has actually been a switch and you see less of the lighter materials and more of the heavy materials (pilings and driftwood).”
On Wednesday the small boat patrolled the Fort Point Channel near the Joe Moakley Federal Courthouse, searching the nooks and crannies of the channel for anything that didn’t belong in the water.
Eventually after scouring a variety of locations including South Boston’s Pleasure Bay, the Charlestown Navy Yard, and the Chelsea Creek, crews will dump their haul, which will either be recycled or transported to a landfill via Save That Stuff, Inc.
“In 1999 I worked over here at Long Wharf and you could not dock a boat at the dock because of the refuse in the water…It was awful,” explained Richard Wickenden, a Plymouth native and employee with the Boston Line and Service Company, the contractor tasked with the cleanup,
Although the biggest impact from the program will be felt in the Boston Harbor and the Fort Point Channel, beach goers in Dorchester, South Boston, and East Boston will also benefit from the work with less harbor trash being swept onto their favorite sandy shores.
“I think we’re going to win. We’re hoping that in the next decade or so we won’t have to do this anymore,” said Li. “That would be the ultimate success story.”