On a windy, chilly day last month, Dave Johnson and his team of four volunteers spent the day cleaning up a section of beach on Port Jefferson Harbor, near the site of an old mining operation whose remains can still be seen in the pilings that stick up out of the sand on the shoreline. Every year Johnson and his crew of volunteers comb the beach for debris that washes up from the Sound with the help of government grants and corporate sponsors.
Boxes of rubber gloves and plastic bags sit at a table in front of a large dumpster along with material and signage telling about the Coastal Stewart, Johnson's nonprofit from which he runs the Adopt-A-Beach program and a Shellfish Restoration program in Mount Sinai and Port Jefferson Harbors.
According to Kathy O'Sullivan-one of the volunteers on the beach that day-Johnson started the beach clean ups years ago simply because he saw the need for it.
"It comes from his own conviction that it should be done," she said.
O'Sullivan said that Johnson has a knack for making coalitions to support his cause with community groups, towns and corporations. Frequently groups like the Boy Scouts or students from the Captains George Linzee's Marine Science Program at The Stony Brook School will come down to help out at beach clean up events. The corporate supporter that day was the National Grid Foundation along with the Town of Brookhaven.
"Sponsorships are important," said Johnson. "Like the National Grid Foundation who sponsored four beach cleanups with a generous donation."
Johnson and his volunteers fill up the back of a pick-up truck with garbage and haul it from the beach to the dumpster where they record the different items they find.
That day Johnson and his volunteers took in about 700 lbs of trash, consisting of wooden boards and beams, buckets, a tire, rubber hoses, Styrofoam from broken docks, plastic and one giant piece of rope. They also found two tents and six sleeping bags abandoned in the brush, partially set up in an area that contained poison ivy.
The debris taken from the beach ranges from old to new. O'Sullivan explained how the remains of that the mining operation in the 1930s and 1940s left behind a superstructure after it closed that still causes havoc to this day.
"They cause a real hazard for sail boats," she said pointing out the dark pilings very visible along the shoreline against the light sand. "There's lots of metal in there too."
The day's tally added to a total of 28.71 tons of debris from 8.7 miles of coastline cleaned in 2010 with the help of 394 volunteers.
One of the people there that day was Greg Nicklas, who works as a caseworker for foster children. He said that he didn't consider the beach clean up volunteering.
"I love doing it," he said. "I consider it a hobby."
In fact, Nicklas, a Port Jefferson Station resident, said that he takes his kayak out into the harbor all the time and picks up garbage from the water.
Another volunteer that day was Johnson's own son, also named Dave who said that he likes to volunteer with his Dad because he feels like he's doing a good thing.
"My dad has been doing this before I was born," said the senior at . "Ever since I was little I'd come out to these."