New group aims to promote marine conservation

02/19/2017 5:20 AM |

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To illustrate just how widespread littering along Long Island’s coastline can be, marine biologist Rob DiGiovanni likes to recall the time he cleaned up a beach in Hampton Bays.

Mr. DiGiovanni, who lives in Westhampton Beach, picked up pounds of garbage that day, hoping his efforts would help keep nearby wildlife safe. He thought he was doing a good job, leaving the beach five pounds of trash lighter, but when he returned to the site the following day he and a few others were able to haul away even more litter.

So this past summer, he founded the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society with the goal of making marine conservation more of a grassroots movement.

“Our mission is to promote marine conservation through action,” said Mr. DiGiovanni, the organization’s chief scientist. “What we realized over the years was that although many people understand that animals might wash up or there’s changes in our environment, they don’t usually walk away with an action item that says, ‘What can I do to help?’ ”

The Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, which has around 20 volunteers, hopes to engage the community through programs at schools, libraries or chambers of commerce to get locals talking about how they can make an impact in their own backyard. The group also wants to hear what the public thinks of marine conservation, said Mr. DiGiovanni, former director and senior biologist at the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation.

“We don’t learn without listening,” he said.

Next month, the society plans to hold training sessions, for which dates will be announced on amseas.org, for new volunteers about conducting beach cleanups and preparing them for monitoring. The plan is to have volunteers “adopt” a beach and report sightings of living and deceased marine creatures that wash ashore, such as the sea turtles suffering from hypothermia that are known to appear along the coastline in the fall and winter.

Along with the Riverhead Foundation, the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society is authorized to respond to live large whale strandings in the region. It also performs marine mammal and sea turtle necropsies, collecting data on strandings and wildlife health.

Mr. DiGiovanni said he hopes to see 100 new volunteers participate in beach cleanups by the end of the year. That would ensure more coverage along the island he said, which is the end goal.

“We have a lot of coastline around Long Island and we have the ability to monitor a lot of coastline,” he said.

Photo caption: Former Riverhead Foundation director Rob DiGiovanni (center) releasing a seal in 2015. (Credit: Nicole Smith, file)

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