Nestled in Milton Harbor between Greenhaven and Milton Point, Rye’s off-grid Hen Island was recently cleaned of flotsam and jetsam. Twenty-two island residents and volunteers gathering trash and debris during its annual beach cleanup day in June.
Approximately 800 pounds of trash was gathered and brought to a central collection point for delivery to the mainland for proper disposal by the City of Rye’s DPW. Some of this year’s trash highlights included two car tires (good tread, slices in the sidewall) and several large cubes of high density Styrofoam (nearly 150 cubic feet) which had washed ashore likely from a distant and ruined dock float. Mylar candy wrappers and plastic bottle caps were common items.
“Our beach cleanup is one of the billions of small acts needed around the world to protect not just our beaches but the biodiversity that is core to all our livelihoods”, said Willem van Rijn, chief operating officer of Greenpeace and an island resident.
The island’s shores contain varied and healthy colonies of mussels, oysters, clams and crabs, including horseshoe crabs. Hen Island is also a nesting and feeding habitat for a wide range of shorebirds such as ospreys, egrets, blue herons, oystercatchers, cormorants and at least one regularly sighted bald eagle, as well as many species of songbirds including northern flicker, red wing blackbird, cat bird, woodpecker, mockingbird and owl.
This year’s cleanup coordinator Bob Clyatt added, “The island and its saltwater marsh areas act as a sort of first line of defense protecting Rye’s mainland shore areas so it is essential to keep them clean and thriving.”
The event has been held each year since 2012 in conjunction with the Northeast Chapter of the American Littoral Society, advocates for America’s shoreline ecosystems and communities. The event is affiliated with the International Coastal Cleanup program, part of a worldwide effort of the Ocean Conservancy. Members of the volunteer group also joined life-long island resident and Mamaroneck firefighter Ed Volpe in reconstructing a modest 9-11 memorial on the island’s large beach, where residents had gathered to view the Manhattan skyline.
A late-season Hen Island cleanup is also being planned for New York’s Annual Beach Cleanup Day on Sept 17, 2022 hosted by the American Littoral Society. In 2021, this event included over 4,000 volunteers statewide in organized beach cleanups on 191 miles of New York’s shoreline.
Twenty-six acre Hen Island is a former part of the historic Jay Estate, is collectively owned by its 34 shareholders in a cooperative structure. Many residents have grown up spending summers on the island in simple homesites built by their parents and grandparents. The island is accessible only by boat and completely off-grid from utilities and city services.
In recent years the Board of Directors and residents have worked together with local authorities to embrace a full spectrum of environmental technologies and practices to ensure strong protections for the wetland environment and safe, healthful living for its seasonal residents.