Keeping Beaches Beautiful

Text by Lisa Leigh Connors  |   Photography by Dan Cutrona

Rubber lobster claw bands. Foil helium balloons. Ribbon tangled in seaweed. These are just a handful of the items that environmentalist Rebecca Arnold might pick up during a morning walk at Lighthouse Beach or Morris Island in Chatham. Arnold’s interest in beach trash happened serendipitously. While out with the Chatham Walkers at Hardings Beach one morning four years ago, Arnold began picking up a few pieces of debris on the way to the lighthouse. Since then, she has created 43 categories that started with fishing line and has grown to include knots, frayed lines, toys, chewing tobacco cans, Ziplock bags, bottles, plastic tops and Styrofoam.

To shed light on the growing problem, Arnold created poster boards showing her trash, which have been on display at First United Methodist Church and the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House, both in Chatham. When she finds a lobster trap tag, she sends it to the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown so they are aware of the problem. “Although our Cape beaches usually look clean,” says Arnold, “the debris is found in the wrack line—not the usual place to walk.” Her hope is to get Cape schools and teachers involved in educating young people about how balloons and plastic toys can cause harm to fish, animals, birds, the ocean and the Earth. “I’m doing a lot,” says Arnold, “but a small amount compared to what’s on Chatham beaches.”

Arnold can be reached at

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