Volunteers in kayaks and on land spent Thursday morning cleaning fireworks debris and other trash from Lake Union, an annual effort aimed at protecting the lake.

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As some Seattle residents slept in after the annual Fourth of July festivities, volunteers shuffled into kayaks to clean up firework debris and other trash from Lake Union.

Around 100 volunteers showed up for the Thursday morning cleanup organized by Puget Soundkeeper, an environmental group dedicated to protecting Puget Sound. Half of the volunteers boarded kayaks for the cleanup, while the other half picked up litter on the shore.

Out on the water, volunteers found the typical post-Fourth of July debris: bits of cardboard and plastic wrapping from fireworks, beer bottles and food wrappers. They also found an unexploded mortar around the size of a soccer ball, which resulted in a visit from the Seattle Police Department’s bomb squad, said Puget Soundkeeper Executive Director Chris Wilke.

“It’s just like fishing,” said volunteer Karl Kawahara. But instead of fish, Kawahara used a large net to collect pieces of soggy cardboard and plastic firework parts that littered the water of Lake Union.

The volunteers collected a total of 553 pounds of trash.

This is more than in previous years, Wilke said, but it might be due to the lake being calm, which meant the litter wasn’t as scattered or pulled underwater.


Gallery: Seattle’s Fourth of July fireworks at Lake Union


Wilke understands the popularity of the annual Lake Union fireworks show, but he hopes residents think about what happens after the celebration.

“Overall, it’s something the community really wants and we’re happy to support that,” he said. “But out of sight should not mean out of mind.”

Paul Fredrickson, a former Coast Guard quartermaster who has volunteered with Puget Soundkeeper for 15 years, said he has found firework debris in Lake Union up to two months after the fireworks show.

Wilke noted the importance of Lake Union, which is in the Cedar-Sammamish watershed, with a sockeye salmon run at its height. The most recent available data shows 2,333 sockeye salmon were counted on Tuesday at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks on their way to Lake Union.

Wilke said he’s seen fish eat debris such as plastic foam beads, which come off of old docks, and from packaging material that makes its way to the water. A 2016 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and World Economic Forum estimates that 8 million tons of plastic enters oceans each year.

Matthew Crissinger, who was with a group of Tableau Software employees helping with the cleanup, said he enjoyed learning about protecting the local environment.

“This lake is very central to the city,” Crissinger said.

Katherine Baals, Puget Soundkeeper’s legal intern, said what drives her is her love for the outdoors.

“At a certain point, it just comes down to protecting where you play,” she said.

Wilke said the first July 5 cleanup took place in 1995. The group has been out every year since, with the exception of one year when the fireworks organizers didn’t support cleanup efforts, Wilke said.

Seattle now requires event organizers to clean up debris from fireworks and has specific rules for fireworks over bodies of water.

“It’s important to take responsibility,” said Belle Nguyen, a high-school volunteer with the Youth Ocean Advocates at the Seattle Aquarium.