A person can leave their mark on the environment which can last up to one million years, but it’s a mark which one would not be proud of making.
Litter and discarded trash effectively puts a stain on the environment, one which will not simply go away in days, months or even years.
More than likely, that glass bottle you just drained and irresponsibly tossed in the San Carlos Bay while fishing for some redfish, will be around until the sun burns out – one million years.
How about that cigarette butt you just extinguished and thoughtlessly threw out your car window while driving down Summerlin, which in turn will be swept into a rain gutter and possibly out into the ocean?
Not quite. It takes a cigarette filter anywhere from one to 50 years to completely dissolve back into nothing, while that monofilament line which you had unsecured in your boat and it blew out into the Gulf of Mexico, can severely damage or kill many different species over its time on Earth, which is 600 years.
Not only does humans’ garbage make Florida’s coastline look like unappealing, it kills and injures over hundreds to thousands of animals a year.
But don’t worry, there are those who do clean up after the litterbugs, with a big helping of trash pickup coming Saturday, Sept. 19, for the international day of Coastal Cleanup, from 9 a.m. to noon.
“We are in our 27th year of participating in Coastal Cleanup Day and the event itself has been going on for 30 years,” said Trish Fancher, of Keep Lee County Beautiful, which is an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful. “We are expecting some 2,000 volunteers on the ground that day and we literally write down what kind of trash was picked up and how much through the use of date cards.”
The event is an international one and in 2014, 648,015 volunteers helped clean up coastlines affected by litter worldwide. During that day alone, 12,329,332 pounds of trash was picked up by volunteers, with 12,914 miles of coastline scanned for garbage.
Locally in Sanibel, the Coastal Cleanup Day is sponsored by the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, as it has for 29 years.
“The Coastal Cleanup is open to the public,” said SCCF Enviornmental Educator Dee Serage-Century. “We are expecting between 150-250 people to help clean up Sanibel and Captiva beaches.”
SCCF invites participants to pick up trash on the beaches, by arriving to the SCCF headquarters on Sanibel, located at 3333 Sanibel-Captiva Road between 9-12 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 19.
There, you can check-in and pick up your Coastal Cleanup data cards and trash bags. Make sure to bring your own water and gloves, as well.
Lunch and snacks on the SCCF Nature Center porch will be available from 10 a.m. to noon, along with a dumpster to dispose of your trash collection.
“Cigarettes and food wrappers topped the list of things found with plastic bottles coming in third,” Serage-Century said.
But people can pick up trash at any time, not just between 9 a.m. and noon.
“It’s open all day, so anyone can do it,” Serage-Century said.
There will be county-wide sites for volunteers to pick up trash, which has many positives to it.
“If people see a large force of people wandering on the beaches, picking up trash, they may reconsidered throwing their’s on the beach,” said Trisha Fancher of Keep Lee County Beautiful. “The data cards are then collected by the volunteers and they are used to collect information to present to the Legislature.”
There are already laws and penalties in place in Florida for litterbugs, which is $100 if caught, but that hasn’t deterred much.
One dirty outcome is the infected look of litter on beaches, which in turn can affect tourism if that area has a reputation of being trashy.
“We do get a lot of support from the businesses on the beach, like usage of their parking lots and their dumpsters, because they know it’s in their best interest to keep their beaches clean,” Fancher said. “We also get a lot of schools volunteering, a lot Boy and Girl Scouts, 4-H groups and this year, we are getting a lot of businesses who are sending out groups, as well.”
Ultimately, the victims turn out to be the wildlife, which inhabit the coastline.
In 2009, the U.S. International Trade Commission estimated that 102 billion plastic bags were in use in the United States. It will take 10-20 years for a plastic bag to decompose, which in turn could injure or kill multiple animals, including sea turtles, fish and marine/shorebirds.
According to an article in ecowatch.com, one in three Leatherback sea turtles have plastic in their stomachs, after mistaking a floating piece in the water as food. This is based on a study of over 370 autopsies.
With the digestion of these plastics, the breakdown increases estrogen in the blood, with male Leatherbacks being found to have grown female sex organs.
In many cases, a plastic bag which has been ingested, blocks the digestive track, thus starving the animal, which can take up to a few weeks before it dies of starvation.
A monofilament fishing line is also very deadly and can lead to a shorebird being strangled to death after being entangled in it. Ingested line also can be deadly for fish, turtles and birds.
Economically, litter pickup is also a drain on the economy. In 2008 stats by “Keep America Beautiful”, it cost the state of Florida $10 million for roadside litter pickup, alone.
For Sanibel residents, they can reserve a favorite clean-up spot or obtain their data cards ahead of time, by calling the SCCF Sept. 14-18, at 472-2329 and ask for Dee.
People can also visit the Keep Lee County Beautiful website at: klcb.org for more information and contacts and areas where one can volunteer for the Coastal Cleanup Day Sept. 19.
Litter is a problem right at everyones’ feet.
Don’t leave your million-year mark by littering, instead leave your mark by keeping nature the way it was intended to be…clean.