Courtesy photo

The Riverhead CAP Youth Coalition hosted a volunteer beach clean up and environmental scan event last month for Reeves Beach and South Jamesport Beach. 

The cleanup was held in conjunction with International Coastal Cleanup Month, a global event to support ocean conservation. The initiative is part of an ongoing community mapping project to collect data that will be used to reduce substance use in community hot spots.

The Youth Coalition partnered with the National Guard Counterdrug Task Force, the Tobacco Action Coalition of Long Island and Riverhead Town to sponsor the event.

“The partnership between Riverhead CAP and the National Guard Counterdrug Task Force has always been successful in providing positive community changes,” National Guard Staff Sergeant Jessica Alese said. “Our mapping project starts with youth and community members coming together to provide us with information we need to conduct community assessments. By showing our youth that their voice matters, we believe this will build their leadership skills for the future and effectively bring attention to problems areas in the community.”

More than half of the litter collected at Reeves Beach — 18 out of 35 pounds — was discarded alcohol products like beer cans, bottles and alcohol products that appeal to youth, the coalition said. Substance use at local parks and beaches are illegal in Riverhead.

“There were a lot of items that I did not expect to find at the beach, said Connor Bobinski, a 15-year-old youth coalition member. “I didn’t really expect to find so many beer cans or beer bottles on the beach. I think it’s awful that people litter.” 

The Tobacco Action Coalition provided bright colored flags that volunteers used to mark areas with cigarette butt litter, Paulette Orlando, a community engagement specialist at the Tobacco Action Coalition said. 

“It’s alarming that the average age of a new smoker in NYS is only 13 years old and 95% of today’s smokers start before the age of 21,” Orlando said. “Tobacco free policies reduce secondhand smoke exposure and cigarette pollution making outdoor recreational areas a healthier environment for families and individuals to enjoy.”

The coalition is working with Riverhead Town to implement strategies to increase awareness of the beach substance use policy, including increasing patrols and implementing clear signage at local beaches.

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Alek Lewis is a lifelong Riverhead resident and a 2021 graduate of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism. Previously, he served as news editor of Stony Brook’s student newspaper, The Statesman, and was a member of the campus’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Email: alek@riverheadlocal.com