Clean beaches are the key to protecting wildlife and ensuring tourists come back to Sanibel Island.
On Saturday, Sept. 21 the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation (SCCF) is partnering with Keep Lee County Beautiful and Bailey's General Store to bring volunteers to the shores for the Ocean Conservancy's 27th Annual Coastal Cleanup. Other area sponsors include South Seas Island Resort, Lee County Visitor and Convention Bureau, and Lee County Department of Solid Waste.
As many as 600,000 volunteers from around the world help to remove millions of pounds of coastal trash during the event. Last year, volunteers picked up 10.2 million pounds of trash across 18,000 miles of coastline.
Volunteers clean the beaches during a past coastal cleanup event. PHOTO PROVIDED.
Kristie Anders, education director at SCCF, said the island cleanup brings in 100-150 people, including school groups and businesses who adopt a certain stretch of the beach. This year, for example, The Canterbury School and Lexington Middle have signed up for the cleanup, as well as Bank of the Islands.
"This helps remove obstacles for wildlife," said Anders. "We have seen wildlife ingest plastic and it sticks with them, they can't get rid of it. It also encourages a better stewardship of the beach."
Volunteers find cigarette filters, lighters, crab traps, buoys, plastic bags, birthday balloons and monofilament fishing line along the shore during the cleanup, but Anders said the island is fortunate enough not to get the industrial items like 55-gallon drums or building materials. On the other hand, more ocean debris may land on the beach if there is a heavy storm.
The majority of litter found last year was cigarette filters and plastic bottles came in third for the most items picked up. In Florida, 23,362 people collected 452,913 pounds of trash across 1,175 miles of coast. On the local level, 900 volunteers, including divers, cleaned up 5,600 pounds of trash and monofilament fishing line from Lee County beaches.
Coastal Cleanup Data Cards and trash bags will be issued to volunteers on Sept. 21. Volunteers keep count of the type and amount of litter they pick up, and provide the SCCF with that data. Eventually, the data is included in the worldwide figures.
"This actually gets fed into an international database," said Anders. "It describes which location on the beach you are on and has helped them (Ocean Conservancy) in federal legislation to get a break down."
Interested volunteers can contact SCCF at 472-2329 or come to the SCCF at 3333 Sanibel-Captiva Road between 9 a.m. and noon on Sept. 21 to check-in. Officials are asking for volunteers to bring their own water, work gloves, hat, sunglasses, and close-toed protective footwear. T-shirts are available for volunteers as supplies last.
Lunch and snacks will be served on the porch of the Nature Center from 10 a.m. to noon from Bailey's General Store. Through Bailey's, Barefoot Wines is also a partner in this year's Coastal Cleanup.
Anders said people are more likely to make an effort to maintain the beaches if they are already clean.
"If a beach is clean, when people first arrive, they have a greater tendency to keep the beach clean themselves," she said.