A duty to conservation
Scene from the beach cleanup on March 31.

Photo by Elizabeth Keirnan

A duty to conservation


SUFFOLK COUNTY—On the day before Easter Sunday, a group of kids from the United States Naval Sea Cadets Corps, Lt. Michael Murphy Division, spent the day cleaning up garbage on Cupsogue Beach in Westhampton. On that clear, sunny and somewhat seasonable day, they worked on the pristine sand as a colony of seals nearby looked on. The voluntary cleanup was based in a desire to serve their local communities in a positive way and a deep respect for our waterways.

The project was in cooperation with the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, a 501(c)3 organization based in Hampton Bays. According to their website, this group’s mission is to “promote conservation of the marine environment through action.” That action includes health assessments of marine life such as whales, dolphins, sea turtles and seals; coming to the aid of stranded or beached sea life; collecting data by air, sea and land; and providing educational programs to the general public.

Gary Vertichio, commander of the Lt. Michael Murphy Division Naval Sea Cadets, said he had invited one of their scientists to come speak to the cadets about marine conservation and was shocked to hear about the issues with garbage polluting our waters. “There’s so much we take advantage of and don’t know the extent of [the damage],” Vertichio said. “I then offered the cadets to help with the cleanup.”

The cadet’s Petty Officer 1st Class Anthony Compierchio, the acting color guard for the Division, said he was happy to take part in the cleanup. “I learned many new things, such as the haul-out behaviors of seals and how something as simple as a beach cleanup can have such a large impact on the environment,” he said. Compierchio, who is a student in the Patchogue-Medford School District, added that he highly recommends other communities to do beach cleanups.

Vertichio noted that three student-cadets from East Islip – Peter Carino, Joe Gianni and Michael Walsh – all had a positive experience that day. “They all agree that more should be done to keep our shores clean,” he added.

Cadet recruit Elizabeth Kiernan, a student at Sayville High School who helped pick up garbage while on the beach that day, shared that sentiment. She said it was a good learning experience. “I learned how to collect data for the garbage we picked up [and] also how the weather can completely affect marine life,” she said. “We also got to see seals [that] were only about 100 yards away. 

“In the end, we weighed the garbage we collected, which turned out to be 85 pounds. [It] completely shocked me because we only got to cover a small portion of the beach. I can only imagine how much garbage is on the rest of the beach,” she said. 

Among the garbage cleaned were 38 small pieces of plastic, 26 shotgun shells, 20 plastic grocery bags, 19 balloons, 18 pieces of rope and a boat hatch.

Vertichio said it was an eye-opening experience for everyone, and hopes to accompany them on another cleanup outing.

“These young cadets are going to be sailing on the ocean [someday],” he noted. “They are going to be its stewards.”

“Having young people like the Sea Cadets get involved in our mission in such an active way is inspiring,” said Robert DiGiovanni Jr., AMCS founder and chief scientist. “They are the future of our environmental movement, so it is critical that today’s youth is given every opportunity to make a positive impact on our environment. They saved marine life… and helped make the beach a safer place for the people who enjoy it as well.”

The Naval Sea Cadet Corps is a national youth leadership development organization that promotes interest and skill in naval disciplines while instilling strong moral character. The technical programs are modeled after the Navy’s professional development system.

The Lt. Michael Murphy Division is based out of the Long Island Maritime Museum in West Sayville. It is named after the former Patchogue native, a U.S. Navy SEAL who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2005. He was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and a Navy destroyer was named in his honor, as will a Navy SEAL Museum in West Sayville, which is due to open in 2019.

For more information about the cadet program, go to www.lmmdseacadets.com.

For more information about the Atlantic Marine Conservation Society, go to www.amseas.org.