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Island couple does their part to clean up Captiva

By Staff | Mar 5, 2009

If you spot David and Mady Rohn riding their bicycles down Captiva Drive, chances are they’re on duty.

David is a retired environmental reporter, editorial-writer and columnist for an Indianapolis newspaper, but he still does some online journalism teaching for the Indiana University School of Journalism.

Mady has a PhD in clinical social work and was in private practice for many years, in addition to teaching at Indiana University.

The couple have been coming to Captiva for over 30 years and have made it their part time home -the rest of their time spent in Vancouver, Canada- for the past 12 years.

While most islanders love to do their part in keeping Captiva beautiful, whether by donating to or volunteering for island conservation and protection organizations, the Rohns take their love for Captiva one step further.

If you see them on their bicycles, they’re probably not going to the grocery store, as the plastic bags attached to their handlebars might suggest.

“When we go to Publix or Bailey’s or Jerry’s we save the grocery bags and the plastic ones are great because they have handles that fit right on the bike,” said Mady.

“Almost every day we go out to the north end here at South Seas and about three or four times a week we go out on Captiva Drive, mainly just to ride our bikes, and along the way we pick up whatever trash we find,” David explained.

“We like to bicycle but Captiva Drive has always been impossible,” said David, adding that he was glad to see construction on the new safety shoulder begin early last year.

The Rohns, who spend part of the year in Vancouver, were looking forward to coming back to Captiva last October and try out the newly finished safety shoulder, only to find, much to their dismay, the path was overgrown with plants and covered in sand, glass and trash.

“It was unusable. My wife accuses me of being a treehugger, but I really believe in bike paths, and Captiva has been the most bicycle-unfriendly place but this was a big improvement, yet it was unusable.

David and Mady postulate that most of the trash they pick up comes from construction sites or is blown away from resident trash cans, though they both agree that shattered beer bottles pose the biggest threat.

On one occasion, David strapped a broomstick to his bicycle to take care of sand that had blown over the path and more importantly, to sweep up dangerous broken glass.

“I’ve had two flats, one down on Sanibel and one here. People ride and they don’t see the glass until they’re on it and they have a flat tire,” said David.

But the Rohns are not simply terrestrial environmentalists.

They spend a lot of time kayaking and have some rather wild stories about the items they’ve plucked out of the mangroves.

Throughout the course of their sea-faring adventures, Mady and David have removed fishing line and hooks, plastic chairs covered in barnacles, lifejackets and even a bar stool.

But their most impressive find was a large three-seater porch swing that they suspects was detached and blew away during Hurricane Charley.

David pulled the porch swing, still fairly intact, out of the water and balanced it on the front of the kayak so they could move it to the side of the road for South Seas to depose of.

“It was unreal to be kayaking with that monstrous thing balanced on the front of the kayak,” Mady said.

But if that sounds over the top, David and Mady say that during their biking excursions, they can collect up to four completely full bags of trash in just one trip.

David said that in the stretch between their home at South Seas and ‘Tween Waters Inn, they collect one full grocery bag of trash. By the time they reach Blind Pass, they fill another bag.

On their way back to ‘Tween Waters they fill one more bag and by the time they reach home again, they’ve filled a fourth bag.

“It really depends. Some days we don’t get much,” Mady said, noting that if she and David continue to bike to the North End of South Seas, they fill at least another two bags.

“If we make four trips a week times the five months we live here, then you’re talking around 400 bags of trash, not to mention all the stuff we get in the kayak,” David said.

David said that he and Mady feel privileged to live on such a beautiful island, and their regular trash duty is a way for them to give back to the place they love so much.

“It’s important to us,” said Mady

“A lot of people on this island do different things. There are people involved in the CCA or they’re on the panel or they contribute to BIG ARTS or C.R.O.W. I guess this is just the thing we do,” David said.