Volunteers clean up coastline

4th of July crowds litter beaches with fireworks, cigarette butts

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The mission of Keepers of the Coast was visible July 5 at Mickler’s Beachfront Park as 125 volunteers scoured the sand for debris left by people celebrating Independence Day. The annual “The Day After” Beaches Cleanup celebrated its 10th year at several sites in St. Johns County including Vilano Beachfront Park, St. Augustine Beach Pier, A Street Beach Access, Crescent Beachfront Park and Mickler’s Beach. Overall, there was less debris collected this year than in years past according to Tara Dodson, president of Keepers of the Coast. Still, volunteers told her they can’t believe people leave trash behind.

“I think there is a little more awareness among people in general and that’s a step in the right direction,” Dodson said.

The movement to ban plastic straws, styrofoam take-out containers and single-use plastic bags in the City of St. Augustine Beach and other cities is credited with raising awareness. The late afternoon rain may have been another factor in reduced litter on beaches.

“July 4 is traditionally one of the busiest days of the season, but the weather will flush people off the beach,” Dodson said. Fewer people on the beach means less trash left behind.

Beaches Go Green, an organization founded by Anne Marie Moquin, adopted the Mickler’s span of coastline. With the help of students and other volunteers, Moquin set up a tent at the entrance of Mickler’s Beach early Friday morning where volunteers could sign in and pick up buckets and gloves for the cleanup.

While the July 5 cleanup is only two hours, Moquin hopes the impact of collecting trash on the beach has a lasting effect.

“Getting people to make small changes leads to big things,” she said.

Heidi Jones was on the beach with her son, Joe Nick Andrew, who is a second-grader at PVPV. By participating, she’s teaching Joe Nick stewardship.

“I think it’s important to take care of our Earth,” she said.

Beth O’Connell walked the beach with her children, Jack and Mollie, who attend Palencia Elementary.

“I’m just trying to teach them how to take better care of the ocean,” she said. “I wanted to get them out here and get them excited.”

Older students were on the beach to earn service hours. Zoey, Vung and Navya are rising seventh graders at Twin Lakes Academy. The trio are members of National Junior Honor Society and earn service hours participating in a variety of civic projects.

The buckets of trash were turned in at the tent to Ponte Vedra High School student, Andrew Worman Jr. He is an officer in the high school’s newly formed Beaches Go Green club. Worman collected supplies from volunteers, logged any items eligible for prizes, then turned over the trash to Jay Handline for sorting.

Handline separated collected debris into categories: waste, recyclables and cigarette butts. By far, the most common item collected at any beach cleanup effort is cigarette butts -- 650 at Friday’s cleanup on Mickler’s Beach.

There were prizes in several categories. A team of boys from Ponte Vedra high school collected 131 cigarette butts. A teenager from Landrum Middle School found a condom wrapper and a tampon to earn a prize for “most unusual.” Other unusual item prizes were awarded for a complete decaying cooler and a set of detached kayak wheels.

The ultimate goal of organizations like Keepers of the Coast and Go Green Beaches is to have zero debris left behind on the beaches. Awareness campaigns may be affecting that change, since less debris was collected the day after Independence Day. But volunteers will still be out in force next July 5 to pick up after the nation’s celebration.

“I just want to make sure everyone knows how thankful we are for the participation,” Dodson said.

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