Non-profit tracks Ocean State's beautiful — but dirty — shoreline

Clean Bays has removed tons of debris from shorelines; new website shows where there's more to do


Thousands of pieces of junk litter Rhode Island’s shores, but a new website just launched by a Middletown non-profit aims to spot — and hopefully help get rid of — them all.

Clean Bays, which was founded as Clean The Bay in 2005 and has been been cleaning Narragansett Bay’s shoreline ever since, has compiled thousands of data points up and down the bay to map out precisely where some of the state’s dirtiest stretches of shoreline lie. It’s all available online and gives precise information on what kind of junk is where.

From abandoned car seats and couches in Bristol to rusted equipment hulks left over from Portsmouth’s Navy days, there is no shortage of junk along Rhode Island’s shorelines. But Clean Bays’ executive director,  Capt. Kent Dresser, thinks the map and website are excellent illustrative tools for a public that might not realize the extent of the bay’s cleanliness problem.

“It’s impossible to get all of it,” he said. “It’s always going to keep coming back and there will always be more. But my vision is that Narragansett Bay becomes the cleanest shoreline in America.”

Taking care of Rhode Island’s shores, he said, “will improve boating, touring, the economy, everything.”

To date, funded with federal/state grants and public/private partnerships, Clean Bays has removed thousands of tons of debris from Rhode Island’s shores. The funds go to pay for a small staff of captains and cleanup crews, to keep Clean Bays’ work boats afloat, and to pay for the disposal of incredible amounts of garbage. Most recently, the company paired with the City of East Providence on a 500-ton cleanup job along the East Providence shoreline, cleaning waterfront from Bullocks Cove all the way to Pawtucket throughout late 2016 and most of 2017.

Keeping it going

Plucking endless junk from the shore can be brutal work, but just as hard is keeping the operation going. Capt. Dresser said it is a continual struggle to maintain funding, and he spends a good amount of his time working with municipalities, marine trades organizations, marinas  and governmental agencies to continue the non-profit’s mission. 

“The bay’s had 12 years of steady attention, but funding the perpetual cleanup is what’s difficult.”

Looking into the future, Clean Bays is examining new ways to get the funds and workforce needed to continue the mission for the next 12 years.

“We are thinking about rehabilitation programs, talking with the Dept. of Correction and working with guys coming out of prison. They need jobs, they need to learn skills, and these jobs tie them back to their community. They can say, ‘I helped make the world a better place.’ Those jobs have a tremendous rehabilitative property.”

Public outreach is another big issue, and that’s one of the reasons behind the new website.

“If people see what’s there they may get involved,” he said. “We want more collaboration with people who have a stake in our shoreline. And that’s everyone in Rhode Island.”

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Mike Rego has worked at East Bay Newspapers since 2001, helping the company launch The Westport Shorelines. He soon after became a Sports Editor, spending the next 10-plus years in that role before taking over as editor of The East Providence Post in February of 2012. To contact Mike to submit information, suggest story ideas or photo opportunities, etc., email mrego@eastbaynewspapers.com.