About 2,000 Western New Yorkers combed the shorelines of Lake Erie, Lake Ontario and many other waterways Saturday during an international cleanup effort.
Volunteers representing 55 organizations turned out for the 13th annual Great Lakes Beach Sweep, part of the International Coastal Cleanup of the Ocean Conservancy.
The cleanup is billed as the largest environmental volunteer project in the world, with 90 countries and all 50 states participating.
The local effort also targeted shoreline of waterways in Erie, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Niagara counties.
From Wilson to Dunkirk Harbor, area residents filled hundreds of bags with shoreline debris.
Volunteers worked two hours, walking beaches and shorelines, where they found litter as large as beds and doors.
Organizers said the goal of the project was not only to collect litter but to come up with ideas to combat pollution and increase public awareness and appreciation of the coastal environment.
"Cleaning up helps our community," said Frankie Hauser, 11, who helped clean up the Buffalo River shoreline at Ohio Street.
The project also was intended to bring attention to the state and county health advisory boards that some sheepshead fish in the lake contain poisons that cause botulism, and residents should not consume or pick up the fish. Sharen Trembath, project coordinator, said many bags of the dead fish were collected, as well as one dead sturgeon.
"We are asking the fishing and swimming public to pay heed to the recent alert," said Kenneth Sherman of Friends of the Buffalo Niagara Rivers, which organized the project on Ohio Street. "People have to be really careful."
Trembath termed the effort "an educational cleanup, to let people know about the marine population."
The project's coordinator was joined by more than 400 volunteers at Wendt Beach.
Nancy Garozzo and her husband, Carmen, accompanied a group of Cub and Boy Scouts at Wendt Beach. The project has become an ritual for Garozzos, who have participated in the last 10 cleanups.
"It's a way to respect and be aware of your community," Nancy Garozzo, 44, said. "It makes the Scouts aware, and we encourage them to take part in the community effort."