Thousands of plastic shards pierced the shore of Philbin Beach in Aquinnah, where Laurisa Rich happened to find herself two years ago. She stood astonished, then bent over and started collecting. 

There was too much trash for one person to pick-up on that day. But instead of getting discouraged, Ms. Rich saw an opportunity.

On Earth Day 2023, she started Beach BeFrienders, a clean-up crew that partners with Island libraries and the Island Conservation Society in an effort to preserve the beaches around the Island. 

“Picking up one piece of plastic can help this one bird that otherwise could have eaten it,” Ms. Rich said on a recent day at Menemsha Beach. “Or that one turtle that would’ve eaten a balloon that could have washed to sea.”

Laurisa Rich started the Beach BeFrienders group in 2023. — Maria Thibodeau

The group turns the trash into treasure by donating it to local artists, or making art with the found material themselves. When there isn’t a use for the trash, it goes to the dump, free of charge.

Beach BeFrienders has met monthly since its inception, gathering to clean different beaches with a rotating group of volunteers. This year’s summer season begins Saturday, June 29 in Aquinnah where from 8 to 10 a.m. volunteers will head out to Philbin, Lobsterville and Moshup’s Beach.

They group tracks the number of pounds of trash they collect, an effort Ms. Rich hopes will inform conservation policy. The data gets uploaded to a marine debris app called Clean Swell, run by a nonprofit called Ocean Conservancy, which sends the data to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Ms. Rich said the group collected 240 pounds of plastic in just two hours at Squibnocket Beach after last year’s solstice storm. Sometimes the clean-up crew finds lobster traps washed ashore. If they can’t track the owners down, they cut and twist the traps into reusable bags.

Beach BeFrienders also gather at the West Tisbury Library to make beach clean-up kits so anyone can collect trash on their own time. Inside each kit is a bag and sticker that people can show at the dump to discard the beach trash for free. 

The group has picked up hundreds of pounds of debris at beaches. — Maria Thibodeau

Kits are available at all Island libraries. Last year Beach BeFrienders made 841 kits, half of which were turned into the dump.

Ms. Rich said that while Beach BeFrienders offers a service to the Island, it also has personal benefits. 

“When we were all kids it was beachcombing for treasures and natural wonders of sea glass and wolf shells,” Ms. Rich said. “That’s still so pleasurable and unwinding.... Organizing Beach BeFrienders as a group has been really fun because it creates a community that has a passion for this.”

Ms. Rich said she has found several lost objects while picking up trash. Some of the most notable were GoPro cameras, a glass buoy and three coconuts washed ashore. 

One time, she said a Beach BeFriender found a message in a bottle, sent by a high school biology class from Outer Banks, N.C. They found another message in a bottle from Nantucket. 

“Of course, the joke is that we’re picking up Nantucket trash,” Ms. Rich said.

For more information about Beach BeFrienders and a summer schedule, visit