Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum seeking volunteers for beach clean up
For the first time, the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum will be joining thousands of others from all over the globe for the International Coastal Cleanup next month.
On Saturday, Sept. 16, from 9 a.m. to noon, the museum will hold a beach cleanup on Causeway Island A. The cleanup is facilitated by Keep Lee County Beautiful and the Ocean Conservancy. Advanced registration is not required for the event.
“We will provide trash bags and gloves. We do provide water but we are asking volunteers to bring their own water bottle to eliminate the use of single-use plastic,” said Leigh Gay, outreach coordinator at the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum.
All of the trash picked up will be recorded on data cards. Gay recommends coming with a team or friend.
“If not, we’ll partner you up. It’s almost impossible doing it by yourself,” she said.
Keep Lee County Beautiful has participated in the event since 1989. This year, it has 16 Coastal Cleanup locations.
“We’re an environmental group. One of our focuses is to make our county cleaner, greener and a better place to live. We’re always trying to focus on improving the environment. This is our largest clean up of the year,” said Mike Thomas, program coordinator of Keep Lee County Beautiful.
Last year in Lee County, 8,805 pounds of litter was picked up by nearly 2,000 volunteers. The No. 1 item collected was cigarette butts. Thomas said that volunteers picked up over 10,000 of them last year.
“The time for them to break down is one to five years. Most people would think it would break down very quickly,” Thomas said. “The filter on a cigarette butt never breaks down. It gets down to where it’s going to be a microplastic. The filter part is so full of toxins, that even though the cigarette is starting to break down, all those toxins are being released into water and soil.”
The second most frequent item that was picked up along the beaches were plastic bottles. Other common items were food wrappers, plastic bottle caps, straws, plastic bags, glass beverage bottles, grocery plastic bags, metal bottle caps and plastic lids. Volunteers combed approximately 88.7 miles of beach.
Thomas said that the majority of litter picked up was small pieces of plastic – which still count.
“So much of the plastic items break down into the microplastics which are less than five millimeters. With all of our tributaries, rivers and storm drains, it’s so easy for it to end up into the Gulf, it doesn’t take very long. You think plastic breaks down but it doesn’t – it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces until finally animals start consuming it,” Thomas said.
On a positive note, Thomas has seen a decrease in the amount of litter over the years.
“Our number of volunteers is actually increasing, but if you look at the amount of weight that we pick up now compared to what we would have picked up say, 10 years ago, we’re actually gathering less weight than we did,” Thomas said. “As a whole in the county, we are doing a better job. There is progress.”
According to the Ocean Conservancy, 18,062,911 pounds of trash were picked up by 791,336 volunteers across the globe last year alone. For more information about the event, go to klcb.org/coastal-cleanup.html.