Mastic Beach has over 20 acres of wetlands. This swampland is integral to the ecosystem. It provides habitat and stores carbon and water, which provides flood control. On Saturday, April 24, volunteers from the Mastic Beach Conservancy and members of the Mastic Beach community roamed the wetlands for two hours, searching for plastics and other objects that were harming the environment. Their collective mission was to keep their town free from litter. Ultimately, the conservancy aims to establish Mastic Beach as an attraction for pollinators and ecotourism through the cultivation of a blue-green trail.
Mastic Beach blue-green trail
Maura Spery, former mayor of Mastic Beach and the director of the Mastic Beach Conservancy, and her board members have a vision for the future of the conservation area. Together with the town, they have been working on an initiative to create a park eco-trail that hooks up to downtown and revitalizes the neighborhood road. Besides improving the health of the wetlands, the conservancy is striving to generate more appreciation for the beauty of Mastic, and “to understand what a treasure we have here [and create an] opportunity to have a massive draw for ecotourism,” Spery said. Spery and her coworkers also believe the development of the conservation area would be beneficial for the health of Mastic Beach residents. “Nature is such a healing power; we could fix it up and make it an asset, and an asset for resiliency... a lot of what we want to do is create this gorgeous contiguous park where people can come and heal in nature,” she added. Education is the key to this initiative as well, and Spery aims to teach volunteers and community members why it is essential to protect the environment, so they can learn the importance of wetlands and become more aware of their part in keeping it clean.
Why they clean
Johnny Panessa, vice president of Mastic Beach Conservancy, spoke about the damage plastics and other forms of litter can cause in the environment. Animals can get stuck in fishing nets or plastic, and any garbage on the land will make its way into water. The final destination for this garbage is the ocean, where it can damage the health of aquatic life. The need to clean the area is clear, aside from the typical refuse: fast-food wrappers and plastic water bottles. At previous cleanups, the conservancy cleaned almost the whole 6-mile parkland waterfront, removing 50 tires, mattresses, giant pieces of decks... a lot of large items.
Welcoming 100 cleanup volunteers
The conservancy has hosted five cleanups to date; their last Earth Day cleanup attracted over 100 people, drawing volunteers from all walks of life. The conservancy has even found ways to involve the youngest members of Mastic and teach them the value of the wetlands. Last year, they collaborated with South Shore Nature Center to take kids outside. Aside from cleaning up litter, Spery and Panessa are also working to educate on the importance of pollinator insects. “[We] went to a grower and bought milkweed plants, which is great for butterflies and bees. In creating blue-green trails, [we] want to work on eradicating invasive species and replanting with pollinator pathways gardens so we [can] have all these beautiful butterflies,” said Spery. Despite the importance of sustaining the pollinator population, many nurseries don’t carry milkweed, so to bridge the gap the conservancy gave away milkweed at the cleanup to encourage people to grow pollinator gardens. “[We] imagine the Mastic peninsula being this monarch haven... they are all over the place, and we should be having that here in Mastic,” added Panessa, who is a native-plant enthusiast.