Environmental Watchdog Lengthens Its Leash

Clean Ocean Access is now officially a nonprofit, but its mission remains the same

By FRANK CARINI/ecoRI News staff

NEWPORT, R.I. — In July 2006, Dave McLaughlin was working full time at Hasbro and volunteering for such causes as The Autism Project. But the Newport resident and year-round surfer, along with a group of local friends, was worried about the future of Aquidneck Island’s beaches. Out of this concern, the organization Clean Ocean Access was born.

For the next seven years, McLaughlin, a core group of friends and a bevy of volunteers became dedicated to preserving Aquidneck Island’s coast. Water quality and access issues became focal points for the organization, so, they say, future generation can continue to enjoy the ocean.

In January of this year, after 17 enjoyable years at Hasbro and a recent battle with cancer, McLaughlin decided it was time to focus more of his attention on the work of the organization he co-founded. That meant becoming a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, establishing a board of directors, writing bylaws and asking for money.

“We’ve entered a realm of actually making a difference,” said McLaughlin, the organization’s executive director. “We need some help. We’ve never asked for money before.”

After 132 coastal cleanups, including 47 this year, that have removed some 55,000 pounds of debris from Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth, Jamestown and Little Compton; the creation of a volunteer network that has collected 3,500 weekly water samples to monitor bacteria and nutrient levels in local waters; the creation this year of a weekly seaweed sampling program; the monthly monitoring of 14 public access points to the ocean; and helping to reopen long-closed King Park Beach, many would argue Clean Ocean Access long ago began making a difference.

The change to an IRS-approved nonprofit was made with the goal of paying McLaughlin, and perhaps a small staff in the future, for all the work required to organize, coordinate and manage the organization’s many programs and volunteers —  nearly 4,100 people have helped Clean Ocean Access at least once, according to McLaughlin.

The organization, and its new seven-member board of directors, will make its first official ask next month. Clean Ocean Access will host its inaugural fundraiser Oct. 4 at Easton’s Beach Rotunda from 4-7 p.m. The catered event is free and open to the public, will include kids’ activities, carousel rides, music, food and drink, and will showcase the organization’s programs and the results generated by its tireless work.

“We’ve come a long way since our first public access issue in January 2006 and our effort has become a coastal-inspired organization that cultivates friendships within the community, with a unified desire of working together, taking good care of the environment, and living healthy lives,” McLaughlin said. “We are committed to protecting, preserving and maintaining the coastal properties (public access, coastline cleanliness and water quality) such that the human-ocean connection lasts forever and the quality of life improves for everyone.”

Entering its ninth year of service, Clean Ocean Access focuses on three primary programs areas: eliminating marine debris from the Aquidneck Island shoreline (Clean), improving water quality (Ocean), and working to protect, preserve and maintain shoreline access (Access). All of these core programs include a broader outreach of youth development and public education.