Cleanup King: Jan Klippert interview by Marilyn Berlin Snell
Jan Klippert: Seattle, WA
Shoreline restorationist, age 69
"In 1997, I hiked a remote portion of the coastline of Olympic National Park and was amazed at all the stuff that had washed ashore. Every winter, storms bring in garbage from the sea. There's an eddy of trash the size of Texas in the Pacific, and when the weather's bad some of it breaks off. I saw what I call fish hampers — some four by six feet — that hold fish catches. There were huge pieces of Styrofoam, a lot of rubber tires, nets, huge hawsers, plastic water bottles.
"I started talking to people I knew in the Park Service about cleaning up the beach. I retired from the King County Public Works Department in 1999. You know, a guy needs a project when he retires! The first year of our coastal cleanup, about 300 folks came out and collected 18 tons of trash. The Park Service, the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary, and the Quileute Tribe agreed to help transport the trash to the dump.
"The first two years I focused on a 60-mile stretch of Olympic National Park. Then the Makah Tribe in northwestern Washington got involved, so we also cleaned beaches on their reservation. We've since added a stretch to the south, so now we collect trash on about 120 miles of coast. Last year more than 500 people came out and we picked up more than 24 tons.
"Without the trash the beaches in Washington are gorgeous. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas referred to them as some of the wildest, most remote, and picturesque beaches in the United States. When we went out last year, it was an absolutely magnificent day: 70 degrees, no wind. Huge flocks of geese flew north overhead. A flock of sandpipers was working the shoreline. People were picking up debris and enjoying the beauty. I believe that if you are acquainted with an area and you love it then you'll help preserve it.
"For me it's a nice winter project. I worry, plan, and organize for the spring cleanup during the winter. Then I can go hiking in the summer with a clear conscience."
FLOTSAM'S TOLL: Marine trash, mostly plastic, kills more than 100,000 mammals and sea turtles each year.