Participants in an Aug. 24, 2023, effort to remove trash along the shore of Marshall Island in Hancock County discuss their progress next to a pile of recovered fishing gear.

Thousands of pounds of ocean trash that has washed up on Hancock County islands have been hauled away this summer.

Last week, volunteers and staffers with conservation groups collected more than 2,000 pounds of trash and lost items — most of which was fishing gear — from Marshall Island, southwest of Swan’s Island. Some of it was taken for disposal at a transfer station in Southwest Harbor, and some to a metal recycling collection site in Steuben. But there’s still more trash piled and bagged on the undeveloped island that needs to be hauled away.

The effort mirrored other cleanup projects earlier this summer on Frenchboro and islands off Stonington and Gouldsboro, where several thousand pounds worth of trash had been collected. The projects are organized each summer by Maine Coast Heritage Trust, which owns or holds easements on dozens of islands spread along the state’s coastline. The Rozalia Project, an ocean pollution research and advocacy organization, and Maine Island Trail Association also have worked with the land trust to collect and remove trash in order to protect the island habitats.

The cleanup highlights the amount of detritus that ends up in Maine waters each year.

Trevor Herrick, regional stewardship manager for Maine Coast Heritage Trust, said most of the human-made debris that washes up on islands is fishing gear that has gotten lost because of storms or broken buoys lines.

“Fishermen try not to lose gear if they can help it,” Herrick said. “The costs of replacing gear and the loss of the trap tag hurt their bottom line.”

A volunteer helps pile buoys together on Marshall Island during an organized trash cleanup on August 24, 2023. The effort, spearheaded by Maine Coast Heritage Trust, collected more than 2,000 pounds of trash and debris from the island’s shores.

Boat propellers, territorial disputes, mandated weak links on fishing rope are among other factors that can contribute to gear being lost, he said. Often the currents and waves work to concentrate the loose gear on certain beaches or coves, where they can pile up along the shore.

For a long time, lobster fishing equipment was made predominantly of natural materials, with traps and buoys made from wood and rope made with natural fibers.

But over recent decades, fishing gear has become overwhelmingly plastic. Buoys are made of styrofoam, traps are assembled from panels of coated wire mesh, and ropes are woven from tensile strands of polyester, nylon, and other types of plastic meant to resist damage. This type of gear can get damaged by coming into contact with solid objects such as rocks or boats, but generally it doesn’t wear down as quickly from salt water as natural materials do.

Some of the buoys and traps are reusable and returned to their owners, while traps that are too damaged are recycled, Herrick said. Some organizations are trying to find ways to recycle sections of rope and broken buoys that can’t be reused so that they don’t end up going to landfills or waste-to-energy incinerators.

But not all the collected trash is lost fishing gear. Plastic beverage bottles, most intended for one-time use, are a major culprit when it comes to ocean pollution, but Herrick said the groups have found other items in their cleanup efforts.

“We have removed parts of boats, whole boats, televisions, microwaves, mylar balloons, docks and even a full crate of dead lobsters that have washed up on the shore in recent memory,” he said.

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....