Clean Ocean Action

Clean Ocean Action Beach Sweeps History

Clean Ocean Action's Beach Sweeps is one of the longest running cleanups in the world. The cleanup first started in 1985 at Sandy Hook with 75 volunteers. The volunteers were given different color T-shirts. Each color designated a different type of item the volunteer was to collect. The T-shirts represented the major categories that items are made of: plastic, glass, metal, wood and foam plastic.


Clean Ocean Action developed a video called "Clean Beaches.... Naturally" to further educate the public about the goals of beach cleanups and the negative impact marine debris has on marine life and to encourage further participation in the sweeps.


To reduce one source of marine debris, Clean Ocean Action developed a storm drain stenciling program in 1988 to educate the public about stormwater run-off and serve as a reminder to communities that what ever goes into our streets and storm drains ends up in our streams, rivers, lakes, bays, and our ocean. The storm drain stenciling program was extended to a week long event in 1993 and became a bi-annual event, similar to the Beach Sweeps, in 1999. Clean Ocean Action also developed vinyl stencils, educational door hangers, an activity packet for teachers, and a video entitled "Paint the Town Blue" as part of the storm drain stenciling program.


In the spring of 1991, the Beach Sweeps went statewide and included sites in Monmouth, Ocean, Atlantic, and Cape May Counties. That same year a computer program was developed to analyze the data collected during the cleanup. With the opening of the South Jersey office in 1993, the Beach Sweeps went statewide for both the spring and fall cleanups, and locations along the Delaware Bay were added. In that year, over 2,500 volunteers hit the beach removing over 130,000 pieces of debris from New Jersey beaches.


In 1994, Clean Ocean Action produced its first report on beach debris in New Jersey. The report was presented at the first International Coastal Cleanup conference in Washington, DC that same year.


By 1996, the Beach Sweeps had moved inland to include rivers, lakes and streams, and Divers Two, Inc. held their first underwater cleanup. In 1997, Clean Ocean Action went on-line with their web site, which includes extensive information about marine debris collected during the Beach Sweeps. Clean Ocean Action also made available to other coordinators around the country its database spreadsheet to help others tabulate and analyze their data from their beach cleanups. This database has been used as far away as Hawaii and the American Somonia Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The July 1998 issue of "Dive Training" magazine had a feature story about the Beach Sweeps, which included an underwater cleanup for divers.


In 1999, the Beach Sweeps was chosen as a "Local Legacy" for the 200th year celebration of the Library of Congress. As part of this honor, a new 12-minute video was produced to further educate about the problem of marine debris and the importance of Clean Ocean Action's Beach Sweeps.


Because of the ever evolving and expanding Beach Sweeps event, in 2001 the words "Waterway Cleanup" were added to include all the areas the cleanup reaches. Participants in the 2003 Beach Sweeps & Waterway Cleanup were introduced to a new 100-item data card that better reflects what is being found on our beaches.


In 1995, Clean Ocean Action started to keep records on the groups that participate in the Beach Sweeps. Since then, over 1,450 groups have supported the effort. These groups includes over 550 environmental and civic organizations and governmental agencies, 549 schools, 288 boy and girl scout groups, and 75 business teams.


Since 1985, over 166,011 volunteers have participated in the Beach Sweeps resulting in over 971,622 volunteer hours for the environment. Volunteer efforts have resulted in 8,315,027 pieces of debris removed from New Jersey's Beaches. A value for this cleanup effort has been estimated to be almost two billion dollars.

Beach Sweeps Timeline

Clean Ocean Action’s beach cleanups evolved over its 20-year history, attracting more volunteers, collecting tons of debris, and developing additional programs and resources to educate people and engage them in the solutions to ocean pollution.


1984 -  Clean Ocean Action (COA) is formed.

1985 - First beach cleanup: “Debris-a-thon.”

1988 -  Storm Drain Stenciling Program starts.

1989 -  “Assembly Resolution” supporting Beach Sweeps from New Jersey’s General Assembly.

1990 -  Cigarette filters added to the data card.

1991 -  Beach Sweeps becomes bi-annual event & goes statewide. Database developed for Beach Sweeps. Over 1,000 volunteers participate in beach cleanup.

1992 - “Senate Resolution” supporting Beach Sweeps from New Jersey’s Senate. “Points of Light” Award to COA for Outstanding Volunteer from US Department of Interior.

1993 -  Storm Drain Stenciling Week is started.

 “Joint Legislative Resolution” supporting Beach Sweeps from NJ’s Senate & General Assembly. Over 2,000 volunteers participate in beach cleanups.

1994 -  First Annual Beach Cleanup Report released. COA participates in first International Coastal Cleanup Conference. “Joint Legislative Resolution” supporting Beach Sweeps from NJ’s Senate & General Assembly. Over 3,000 volunteers participate in beach cleanup.

1995 - “Outstanding and Dedicated Service” Award to COA from Center for Marine Conservation (now The Ocean Conservancy).

1996 -  Beach Sweeps expands to rivers, lakes, & streams. First underwater cleanup.

1997 -  COA’s website is launched. Beach Sweeps database spreadsheets on marine debris available to the world. Over 4,000 volunteers participate in beach cleanups.

1998 - Beach Sweeps featured in Dive Training Magazine. “Excellence in Service and Commitment to Community” Award to COA from Stephen & Mary Birch Foundation.

1999 - “Local Legacy” Award to COA from US Library of Congress. “Beach Sweeps, A Local Legacy” video is produced. Storm Drain Stenciling Week becomes bi-annual. Special 16-page Beach Sweeps report released.

2001 - “Outstanding Community Project” Make a Difference Day Award to COA from USA Today. Over 5,000 volunteers participate in beach cleanups.

2002 - Over 2 million pieces of debris removed from NJ’s waterways & shoreline from 1993 through 2002.

2003 - New 100-item data card introduced. “Volunteer Recognition” Award to COA for Beach Sweeps from NJDEP, Division of Parks and Forestry, State Park Service.

2004 - Beach Sweeps sets new records for volunteers, items collected and pounds of trash removed.

2005 - New 106-item data card introduced. New teacher’s education activity guide developed for the Beach Sweeps.


49 Avenel Blvd.
Long Branch, NJ 07740

Field Office:

Gateway National Recreation Area
Sandy Hook, New Jersey

Voice: (732) 872-0111
FAX: (732) 872-8041

Candid/Guidestar "Essential nonprofit data, tools, and resources"

Charity Navigator, "Your Guide to Intelligent Giving"