GOULDSBORO — Outer Bar Island shields Corea Harbor. The partially wooded isle’s northern shore bears the brunt of hurricane-force storms and rough seas sweeping in from the Atlantic Ocean. For decades, that shoreline has been the dumping ground for lost lobster traps, fishing rope, buoys and other marine debris coughed up by the sea.
A great garland of wire traps and other detritus, decking Outer Bar Island’s northern shoreline, greeted 20 able-bodied volunteers coming ashore from a 60-foot Bermuda-rigged sloop and aluminum outboard skiffs on Thursday, June 23. The two-day trap cleanup on the privately owned island was jointly organized by the Rozalia Project, a Vermont-based nonprofit organization, whose mission is to partner with citizens, communities, landowners and other groups to clean up the ocean. For this particular beach cleanup, Rozalia was joined by the Washington, D.C.-based Ocean Conservancy and the Maine Island Trail Association in Portland.
Ashley Sullivan, the Rozalia Project’s executive director, credited Corea lobster fisherman Dan Rodgers for permitting the organization to place a 40-yard roll-off dumpster on his wharf for landing and storing 229 heavily damaged traps, 300 pounds of line, 129 bungee cords, 74 buoys and floats and other trash hauled off Outer Bar and neighboring Western Island. The wire traps will be recycled at either Apex Metals in Holden or Rowland’s Recycling in Steuben.
Like an archaeological dig, the Rozalia Project’s June 23-24 operation only peeled off the first layer of marine trash on Outer Great Bar’s northern shore that never had been cleared. The fishing gear has been piling up there over decades. An estimated 600 to 700 traps and rope remain on or semi-submerged in the cobble beach and entangled in the rosa rugosa shrubs.
“We plan to go back next year and continue the project. We hope a lot of people will turn out. We needed more boats,” Sullivan said last Sunday. “We all depend on this resource. The fishing industry needs a thriving ocean. So do the creatures and humans.”
Co-founded by Vermont scientist and sailor Rachael Z. Miller in 2010, the Rozalia Project is named for Miller’s great-grandmother, Rozalia Belsky, who ventured by steamship from the Ukraine port of Odessa to America in 1922. The sea was her route to escape religious persecution and join her husband for a better life in the United States. Miller is credited with coinventing the Cora Ball, the world’s first microfiber-catching laundry ball. She also is an accomplished sailor and diver.
Headquartered in Burlington, Vt., the Rozalia Project marshals people and has employed a variety of technologies to detect and remove 1 million pieces of trash from the North Atlantic and U.S. waterways over the last decade. Because it’s based in the Northeast, the organization has focused the majority of its work in the Gulf of Maine. The group’s research vessel is none other than late famed Maine sailor Dodge Morgan’s Little Harbor cutter-rigged sloop. In American Promise, Morgan set a record of 150 days, 1 hour and 6 minutes sailing solo without stopping around the world in 1986. The rugged boat was designed for sturdiness by yacht designer Ted Hood.
Among the devices in its toolbox, The Rozalia Project uses a VideoRay Pro to take video and still photos and pluck items from plastic bags to beverage cans off the ocean floor. Involving all the stakeholders – from citizens to fishermen – is crucial to the work.
For the Outer Bar cleanup, Sullivan says it was a Maine Coast Heritage Trust steward, Douglas McMulllin, who alerted her about the trap pileup on Outer Bar. She contacted the island’s owners Virginia Rich and Matthew Sullivan and neighboring Western Island owner Jack Soley, who welcomed the effort. Soley also pitched in during the two-day session. She reached out to the Corea Lobster Cooperative as a potential site to offload the marine trash in a dumpster. But the co-op referred her to Dan Rodgers, whose wharf made more practical sense. She also thanked the Corea residents who opened their homes and let the volunteers use their bathrooms.
To clean up the ocean, all these contacts and helping hands are crucial.
“We all have to take responsibility for the waste,” Sullivan said.
Partnerships are required, too, in the physical removal of traps from the islands. To facilitate that, the Rozalia Project teamed up with the Maine Island Trail Association (MITA), which has a fleet of 18-foot aluminum skiffs it keeps in, and also trailers to, different Maine harbors. MITA provided craft for transporting the traps, line and other waste from Outer Bar and Western Island to Corea. The Portland-based group, which has its own schedule of island cleanups, also enlisted volunteers to participate in last weekend’s trap cleanup.
MITA’s regional stewardship manager, Christina Hassett, agreed with Sullivan’s assessment that the cleanup on Outer Bar has only just begun.
“You can tell it’s decades and decades of accumulated trash,” she said of walking on Outer Bar’s northern shore. “You hear it. Plastic on top of plastic. It crunches under your feet.”
The Rozalia Project’s trap cleanup was part of the Ocean Conservancy’s broader Global Ghost Gear initiative. The Outer Bar and Western Island sessions were part of a 10-day operation to remove 12,000 pounds of ghost gear from the Gulf of Maine.