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Coastal Cleanup: Registration under way for annual event

By Staff | Aug 22, 2019

Registration is now open for the annual International Coastal Cleanup with numerous sites around Lee County.

This year the International Coastal Cleanup will be held from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Sept. 21. A few new sites have been added for the cleanup with a total of 13 locations volunteers can choose from throughout Lee County. Some of the sites have limited availability due to parking restraints.

“This is a water-based (cleanup), so we don’t go too much inland,” said Keep Lee County Beautiful Program Coordinator Mike Thomas, adding that they do have three sites in Cape Coral that are right along the Caloosahatchee.

Coastal Cleanup is a global event started by by Ocean Conservancy. Keep Lee County Beautiful has organized the local Coastal Cleanup for 30 years.

“It has really grown. On this one day they (Coastal Cleanup) are all over the world,” Thomas said.

On occasion, the International Coastal Cleanup has been moved to other dates in Lee County. Last year’s red tide outbreak was an example.

“We ended up pushing our event back a month. We still held the event. A lot of the counties in Florida ended up canceling due to red tide being so bad,” Thomas said. “The numbers were starting to look better for the bacteria count. I rolled the dice and said let’s push it back a month. A couple of weeks before the new date, the water was testing good. We still ended up with almost 1,600 volunteers.”

Last year’s Coastal Cleanup attracted 1,546 volunteers who removed 3,358 pounds of litter and debris from waterways.

Those interested in registering for this year’s cleanup are asked to visit www.klcb.org/coastal-cleanup.html. Thomas said volunteers can register an entire group at one time, rather than registering each individual person.

“The whole process takes less than a minute to do. It’s good to register, so we are able to plan the supplies as best as possible as far as trash bags, gloves and water,” he said.

Volunteers engage in vital research by recording data identifying the number and type of littered items. Those numbers are compiled by Keep Lee County Beautiful, which is then shared on a national level with Keep America Beautiful and Ocean Conservancy, as well as Lee County officials. All of the data collected helps in determining future requirements for cleanup initiatives, projects needed in the community and the development of environmental awareness.

Volunteers are asked to bring their reusable filled water containers to the cleanup. Keep Lee County Beautiful received a grant last year from one of its sponsors, which allowed them to purchase water coolers and tables to create hydration stations during cleanups.

For all sites possible, they are switching to five-gallon coolers and paper coned cups that are biodegradable to stay away from plastic.

“We are trying to get away from plastic water use. We cut plastic water use by 50 percent from what we were doing two years ago,” Thomas said. “It helps us if they bring their own reusable cup already filled with water, so we know we have enough.”

The No. 1 thing picked up during the Coastal Cleanup is cigarette butts.

He said he has one site in Cape Coral where they will pick up more than 2,000 cigarette butts and a site in Bonita where there are more than 5,000 cigarette butts picked up due to the number of volunteers and location.

“Last year by the end of the event, we had over 10,000 cigarette butts for the day,” Thomas said.

The other offenders are plastic bottles and small pieces of plastic candy wrappers and food wrappers.

The Coastal Cleanup is the biggest event for Keep Lee County Beautiful in terms of volunteers and the Great American Cleanup held in April has the most sites.

“That event, in April, we gather the most trash,” Thomas said. “Part of that is because we are doing inland, coastal sites. We find a lot of illegal dumpsites. You find one (illegal dumpsite) that has 1,000 pounds (of trash) and your number goes through the roof. This one (Coastal Cleanup) typically is around 4,000 pounds (of trash), but again that is a lot of weight when we are not finding illegal dumpsites. We are finding beer bottles and plastic and all of this stuff, it adds up.”

Every volunteer makes a difference during the International Coastal Cleanup, especially for the marine life that consumes some of this litter.

“They eat so many of these items because they think it is food they can eat. But they are not able to digest it and then the items end up killing them. One of the really big concerns that is getting a lot of attention is the amount of microfibers in our water. It is continuing to increase and it is from the plastic microfibers,” Thomas said.

He said all the plastic floating in the water is breaking down until it reaches these little microfibers, which are becoming consumed by fish and smaller organisms.

“It goes up the food chain and is getting into us because we eat the fish,” Thomas said. “Events like this is so important because we are trying to stop it.”

The Coastal Cleanup becomes an educational and awareness event for those involved because they see how much trash is left behind while learning what it does to marine life.

“I love when I see the kids participating with their parents,” Thomas said, adding they then will be less likely litter in the future.

For more information, call 239-334-3488 or visit www.klcb.org.