updated 7/21/2006 9:42:02 AM ET 2006-07-21T13:42:02

Cigarettes and their filters topped the list of trash items culled from beaches worldwide during last year's annual international coastal cleanup, according to a report.

More than 450,000 volunteers removed 8.2 million pounds of debris from 18,000 miles of coastline and waterways in 74 countries during the daylong cleanup in September, The Ocean Conservancy said in a report released Thursday. The group has sponsored the worldwide volunteer effort for 20 years.

"Marine debris kills wildlife and is a threat to the local environment, not to mention an eyesore," said director Vickie Matter. "The information we've gathered over the past 20 years shows that it's ultimately a manmade problem, which means it is highly solvable."

Kathryn Novak, the group's Florida coordinator, said the Sunshine State's 1,200 miles of coastline and dozens of endangered or threatened species makes it especially vulnerable to litter.

"Plastic bags are one of the most common items that we find and they resemble jelly fish which is one of the favorite foods of sea turtles," Novak said.

Since 1986, more than six million volunteers in the project have removed a 109 million pounds of trash from 179 million miles of beaches and waterways in 127 countries, according to the Washington-based environmental advocacy group.

Of the 6.2 million items of debris collected worldwide last year, cigarettes and cigarette butts accounted for roughly 1.6 million. Coming in a close second at 1.3 million were caps and lids, food wrappers and containers.

The United States had the most participants, according to the report, with 174,000 people cleaning some 3.9 million pounds of trash from nearly 14,000 miles of waterways and coastlines.

The Philippines saw the second best participation with about 123,000 people, followed by Canada where slightly more than 21,000 volunteers helped out.

California and Florida saw the most participation in the U.S., with 54,000 and 25,000 people participating, respectively.

Ironically, in California, where at least 35 coastal cities prohibit smokers from lighting up on the beach, volunteers plucked 258,000 cigarettes and filters from the sand, more than anywhere in the country.

This year's cleanup is set for Sept. 16.

Detailed information about the cleanup is online at http://www.oceanconservancy.org/ICC.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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