WELLESLEY ISLAND, N.Y (WWTI) — During the second weekend in June, over 100 volunteers made their way to Wellesley Island on the St. Lawrence River.

The volunteers all had one goal: To pick up as much trash, throughout the morning as possible.

This initiative, Trash Free River Cleanup, is led by local grassroots organization Save the River who began the cleanups in the Fall of 2020. The cleanups have been led in Clayton, Cape Vincent and now Wellesley Island.

A main priority for these cleanups is to remove plastic products, or plastic pieces, from the water, shoreline, or nearby areas.

“All the plastics as they’re going into the river from society, they’re breaking down. They’re getting down to microplastics, Nano plastics; they’re getting into the fish and the birds gullets,’ shared Save the River Executive Director John Peach. “I think the strongest takeaway I’ve seen is with the people getting the small little pieces of plastic, the small little pieces of fishing line, and realizing that in fact, those could be in a fish this afternoon.”

This was proven during the clean up on Saturday when a group of volunteers discovered a dead fish on the shoreline. The fish was found to have broken down Styrofoam beads in its gills, a potential cause for the animals death.

And organization is pushing to “break borders” and expand these efforts with those who share the St. Lawrence River waterway on the Canadian side.

“John has said before: the trash and the wildlife, know no boundaries, they know no border,” expressed Thousand Island Association Board Member Janet Smith Staples. “And so this summer we are hosting our second annual [cleanup] on the Canadian side in August.”

“We were trying to get people out here, get them educated, get the plastic and the trash out of the river,” added Peach.

Peach concluded by reflecting on the overwhelming feedback and support Save the River has received from volunteers, local municipalities and New York State Parks.

“I’d love to see it expanded. You got to keep it where you can manage it, but the enthusiasm from the volunteers and the the state park employees has been incredible,” he added. “The town employees have been incredible and coming out on Saturday to move trucks around the move and pick up the trash. That makes it a lot easier, we know where we can put the trash and put the recycle.”

Save the River is set to host additional cleanups throughout the summer, with one scheduled for the Chippewa Bay community in August and goals to work with island associations in the 1000 Island Region.

A full listing of Trash Free River Cleanup events can be found on the organization’s website.