Shoreline Trash

A participant in the 2004 Adopt-a-Beach clean-up (sponsored by the Texas General Land Office) collects trash from along the Padre Island shoreline.
Every year over 1,000 volunteers pick up over 150 tons of trash from along the Padre Island shoreline either as individuals or in organized clean-ups.

NPS photo

Just as the sometimes overwhelming abundance of seaweed on the beaches mystifies many people, the overwhelming abundance of trash at other times gives rise to a great deal of consternation, bewilderment, and, regrettably, anger. Most visitors to the Seashore come here to experience the beautiful sun-drenched beaches and leave with pleasant memories of a wonderful vacation. However, some are not so lucky and find their way here at times when the beach is covered with a seemingly endless river of trash then leave wondering "Where does all this trash come from and why is no one doing anything about it?"

Several thousand years ago the currents in the Gulf of Mexico brought the sand, sargassum, and driftwood that formed the island. Today the currents continue to bring natural objects, but they also bring anything that is thrown or emptied into the Gulf: bottles, hypodermic needles, light bulbs, lumber, oil, etc. An international treaty has been enacted to limit the dumping of wastes into the Gulf, but this treaty can be violated and enforcement may be difficult. In addition, many items may not have been thrown directly into the Gulf. Debris can wash down from far within the interior of a country by traveling from sewer to stream to river to the open sea.

Since 1988, park researchers have collected data on the types and quantities of trash that washes onto park beaches. Beginning in 1994, park researchers initiated the PINS Marine Debris Point Source Investigation. This labor intensive research project has required daily cataloging and removal of 43 debris items from 16 miles of shoreline within Padre Island National Seashore.

To date, park scientists have obtained over 1,000 days of marine debris data from the Point Source Investigation, collectively covering a survey area of over 16,800 miles of shoreline. This study represents one of the first long-term comprehensive, marine debris research projects initiated in the United States. The study has shown that marine debris can be traced to many sources including debris from the Misssissippi River, storms, commercial shrimping industry, offshore oil and gas industry, Mexico, and many other sources. In addition, 94% of the oil and tar found on the beach can be traced to man-made sources such as oil spills, engine lube oil, and tanker washings.

With over 65 miles of shoreline, keeping the beaches clean would be an immense task for any organization. While the Padre Island National Seashore staff does the best it can to keep as much of the shore as clean as possible, we must often rely on the assistance of the environmentally-conscious volunteer groups from the general public. The National Seashore also participates in statewide beach clean-ups and the Adopt-a-Beach program. We also rely on "grass roots" participation by visitors and always have a ready supply of garbage bags available at the Visitors Center for those who want to pitch in on an individual basis.

A major problem confronting the National Seashore is that most of the park's shoreline is accessible only by four-wheel-drive (4WD) vehicles. Although the park does have 4WD vehicles of its own, most are SUV's or ATV's and the park has very few 4WD vehicles designed for hauling substantial amounts of material. If you have a 4WD vehicle and would like to learn more about how you can help, please visit our 4WD clean-up page.

Learn more about shoreline trash by clicking on the following links:

The Environmental Protection Agency

The Clean Beaches Organization

If you would like to learn more about how you can help, contact the Padre Island National Seashore Visitor Center at (361) 949-8068 or send an e-mail to the Malaquite Visitor Center.

If you are planning a clean-up, please follow this link to read the park's safety guidelines for clean-ups.

To find out when the next beach clean-up open to the public will be held, go to the park's schedule of events in the "Plan Your Visit" section of the Site Index near the bottom of the the link bar to the left. These are normally the Big Shell Clean-Up in March, the Texas Adopt-a-Beach Clean-Up in April, and the International Coastal Clean-up in September. However, others may be offered, particularly in spring and summer.

Last updated: February 24, 2015

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P.O. Box 181300
Corpus Christi, TX 78480


(361) 949-8068
Malaquite Visitor Center information line.

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