Saving South County Shores, One Community Cleanup at a Time

A Narragansett surfer runs local nonprofit’s beach cleanups to build community and keep shorelines healthy

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Few areas demonstrate Rhode Island’s tie to the ocean better than South County. From fresh seafood and seaside restaurants to nautical styles, beloved beach days, and water activities, southern Rhode Island culture is deeply intertwined with the coastline. This same picture-perfect coastline, however, is not immune to an issue that harms the environment across the world: trash. Whether it washes in with the tide, gets deposited by the wind, or is left behind, non-biodegradable items of all shapes and sizes end up on beaches and in rocky outcroppings. Trash affects some locations much more than others, but litter anywhere affects the health of the ocean water that is so vital to South County life.

This very problem is why Narragansett surfer Kevin Carmignani jumped at the opportunity to become Project Coordinator of the Ocean Recovery Community Alliance, or ORCA, when it was created last summer. An initiative from the Connecticut Community for Addiction Recovery (CCAR), ORCA’s main function is to run beach cleanups. For Carmignani, it’s not only a way to keep our coastline beautiful, but also a way to service the environment that has given him so much. “I’ve always had this connection to the ocean,” he reflects. “I moved to Rhode Island to be closer to the water to surf. I’m pretty much in the water all the time and what better way to take care of what I love and do it for a career.”

ORCA’s environmental action plan is intentionally simple. By solely cleaning the beach – no politics, memberships, or payments required – ORCA is inclusive to everyone, and strives to create a sense of action, purpose, and community. No matter who you are, the cleanups are an easy and accessible way to get fresh air, meet people, and do good for yourself and the environment.

These benefits are plainly seen at events, like one in Point Judith where southern Rhode Islanders came together in force. “The weather was perfect,” Carmignani recalls. “People brought their kids, dogs, and friends along. It was people from the surfing community, people who lived in the area, people who just care about our coastline, and people from the recovery community. It was such a large and diverse group of people; that’s what ORCA is all about.”

ORCA’s cleanups are held throughout each month at various locations, including South County spots like Charlestown and Narragansett, and their impact is clear. “So far our volunteers have picked up just north of two tons of garbage since we started in July 2020,” Carmignani says, naming cigarette butts, nips, plastic bottles, and masks as the worst offenders. ORCA makes it simple and sanitary to collect all of this trash, providing trash grabbers and easy-to-carry receptacles.

Volunteers can sign up for events on ORCA’s Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram pages (@orcafellowship), and anyone can support the nonprofit through spreading the word or donating through CCAR.us/ORCA. While two tons of garbage is an alarming reminder of the ocean’s trash problem, it is also an inspiring sign of what can be accomplished when the community comes together to preserve the coastline.

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