Earlier today, Clean Ocean Action released its annual report on its "beach sweeps" events to pick up litter.

What suddenly caught my eye this year wasn't so much the litter itself — a nevertheless whopping 351,781 pieces — but the number people who participated.

This event has grown a lot, and last year it attracted 6,926 volunteers.Imagine getting that many people to fanout across New Jersey's beaches to pick up yechy stuff.

Clean Ocean Action now claims the sweep "has become New Jersey's largest environmental event with thousands of citizens combing nearly all 127 miles ocean coastline and bay beaches."

The majority of the debris removed was disposable plastics. That includes:

  • 49,362 cigarette filters

  • 22,308 straws and stirrers

  • 38,349 caps and lids

Plastics overall, including foam, represents 82.7 percent of the total waste found.

"It is clear: disposable plastic items continue to litter beaches, threaten marine life, and impact water quality," reads the Clean Ocean Action press release.

The overall number of pieces of litter is down from 2011, but that may not be an accurate picture, the organization noted.

"Unfortunately, many of our Beach Captains were affected by Superstorm Sandy and were not able to return the volunteer collected data from the Fall Beach Sweeps. The numbers reflected in this year's report, especially from the fall, should be considered conservative," said Tavia Danch, Clean Ocean Action Program Manager, in the press release.

"On a brighter note, COA volunteers were able to remove nearly 148,000 pieces of debris before Sandy hit our coasts," she said.

This year, Beach Sweeps has been folded into Clean Ocean Action's Wave of Action For The Shore program, a monthly volunteer initiative that was started in December 2012 to help the people, businesses and habitats affected by Superstorm Sandy.

So far, it's amounted to 100 projects that drew 5,500 volunteers in New York and New Jersey , according to Lindsay McNamara, Clean Ocean Action Program and Communications Associate.

The spring Beach Sweeps "will be the first Wave of Action where data will be collected, a vital addition which will help inform citizens and elected officials of pollution problems after Superstorm Sandy," said McNamara.

"This year is like no other," said Cindy Zipf, Executive Director of Clean Ocean Action. "Our beaches have been profoundly altered by Superstorm Sandy. Dunes and dune grasses are gone. Large debris has piled up along the shorelines and is in our waterways. How these may impact Beach Sweeps may provide some interesting and valuable insights."

One fun (sort of) thing the group does is to compile a "roster of the ridiculous," including some of the stranger items collected. In 2012, they included:

  • Earmuffs

  • Hairclip with fake hair,

  • False eyelashes

  • Shopping cart

  • Fortune cookie

  • Stuffed horse

  • Magic wand

  • Vampire teeth

  • Ant trap

  • Boomerang

  • Brake shoes

  • Baby shark toy

  • Message in a bottle

  • Wicker sofa

  • Christmas lights

  • Stove burner

...and so much more.