COVID-19 cancelled the event in April but Clean Ocean Action has announced its fall beach sweeps is set for Saturday, Oct. 24 at more than 60 locations in the state. 

The fall beach sweeps will be a bit different this year as COVID-19 protocols are in place to ensure everyone's safety, said Alison Jones, watershed program coordinator for Clean Ocean Action.

The sweep is already outside on the beach so there is plenty of space to social distance. Volunteers, who are asked to register in advance, are expected to wear a mask when they can't stand 6 feet apart. Aside from that, Jones said, it will be business as usual.

Weird items have been collected on the beaches in the past during these sweeps: car bumpers, Christmas trees, Santa Claus figurines, birthday candles, boxes of nails, roof shingles and even a broken toilet.

"You really never know what to expect out on the beach," said Jones.

Last year, the most unique find was an engagement ring. Brianne Sinks, the volunteer who discovered the $6,000 diamond ring, was able to track down where it was purchased. From there, Bentley Jewelers in Wall was able to track down the purchaser and return it to the rightful owners. The ring had been lost for a few years.

Jones said the beach sweeps are important heading into the winter months because of the summer beach activity. There will most likely be a good amount of trash and debris on the beaches for volunteers to collect.

"It's really critical that we're able to remove all this litter and debris from the marine environment where it can be harmful to wildlife," said Jones.

The amount of trash picked up during these sweeps depends a lot on the number of volunteers. She said in 2019, there were roughly 5,000 volunteers at both the fall and spring sweeps. During the fall beach sweeps alone, volunteers collected about 251,000 items.

Jones said there will likely be a reduction in the number of volunteers during the October sweeps because of the pandemic.

Jones said Clean Ocean Action is excited about the bill sitting on Gov. Phil Murphy's desk that would ban single-use plastic bags, styrofoam take-out containers and make plastic straws available only upon request at restaurants. She said this is a great way for New Jersey to make strides to reduce all plastic waste making its way into the marine environment, harming sea life.

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