Mending our Coast and Community

Megan shares her research into the relationships between the fishing industry, water pollution, and environmental initiatives.

Allies and Partners
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ACES leaders and Youth Corps team members

Editor’s note: 

This is one in a continuing series of guest opinions about fostering environmental
stewardship and leadership coordinated by ACES — The Alliance of Climate and Environmental

As someone who has spent considerable time thinking about how to address plastic pollution, I relate to the feeling of the issue seeming insurmountable. In a search towards positive change, I discovered the work of Laura Ludwig, the manager of the Marine Debris and Plastics Program at Provincetown’s Center for Coastal Studies. Laura’s goal has been to remove and process the most amount of ocean debris possible. To best achieve this, a cornerstone of her programming has been built on a strong community network where all parties benefit. It gives me hope to imagine how similar models could bring successful outcomes to other aspects of our communities as well.

Last May. I took a trip to visit Laura at the Provincetown harbor where she was processing her program's recent haul of marine debris brought in by local fishermen. Through the Center for Coastal Studies, she employs these fishermen during their off-season to help retrieve lost and abandoned gear. Her program then extends the community further by networking with artists and craft manufacturers to make use of the material retrieved from the ocean. This diverts it from the waste stream and gives it new life.

Ludwig’s systems stood out to me because of these partnerships. It's no secret that tensions between the fishing community and environmental initiatives have been high. In large part, this has been due to media coverage and legal battles blaming the fishing community for harming the Northern Right Whale population. In contrast to exacerbating division through finger-pointing, Laura's programming works in collaboration with the fishing community to find mutual systems of benefit—an approach that has delivered profound success. Not only has her work successfully processed over 250 tons of debris from the ocean—it also works to mend detrimental divisions in our coastal communities.

In early April of this year, I had the opportunity to join Laura, 4 artists, and students from Cornell University to spend spring break on Cuttyhunk Island, located off the southern coast of Massachusetts. We spent our days working together to chip away at the massive amounts of detritus that had accumulated on the shorelines of this 1.5-mile-long piece of land. Despite the seemingly impossible task, our team of 26 individuals successfully removed over 8 tons of debris from the island in 6 days—these are some powerful numbers.

Laura's collaborative approach to marine debris removal is not only effective, but it also fosters connection. As she said to me, "There is no way I could do this all on my own—the volunteers and support from this network is essential to making it happen." It's through these systems of mutual benefit that we can sustainably mend both our coast and community.

If you're interested in learning more about Laura's work, she'll be sharing her insights at the Newburyport Senior/Community Center on Wednesday, May 24, 2023 at 7pm. Her presentation, hosted by Storm Surge, will be broadcast live on local cable access NCM-HUB channel 8. I'll also be on-hand sharing my artwork and sharing my perspectives on successful collaborative programming. You can register for this event at

West Newbury resident Megan Chiango is committed to making meaningful contributions to the health of our local environment. She most recently directed the "Windows for Change" program which engaged youth in creating 24 creative stewardship displays at city retailers as part of the Chamber of Commerce's "Forever Green Newburyport" campaign.

Our Youth Corps asks you to consider the significance of this ocean waste and participate in effecting change. They ask that you provide any thoughts about a project or practice that could contribute to a healthier environment. Send us a note at . To learn more about ACES and its Initiatives, visit

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about the author
Megan Chiango

A West Newbury resident and member of the ACES BOD, Megan is a mom of two amazing kids and has an insatiable desire to visually problem solve and form connections. After 20+ years of working in design, the focus of her artistic practice has shifted to community oriented environmental initiatives. She looks forward to applying creative thought and energy to tangible and meaningful acts of stewardship.

about the co-authors
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