Jessica and Sandy Rowley were exasperated and energized Saturday. They’d just finished their 25th year participating in the 36th annual International Coastal Cleanup and they picked up 36.5 pounds of trash among their two buckets and two bags.
“We do it every year,” said Sandy, a Boynton Beach resident and Jessica’s mother. “We like to help out. It’s one of the things we enjoy.”
The haul from the 100-person beach cleanup at Boca Raton’s Spanish River Park on the first day of the International Coastal Cleanup was both humorous and disappointing.
A pair of blue jeans. A Gucci slide shoe. A vodka bottle with one shot remaining. An iPhone. A tennis ball. A wire clothes hanger. Bandages. Balloons. In one area, someone found 11 cigarette butts, a wine bottle and a beer bottle.
And, curiously, lots of lollipop sticks were found Saturday.
“Actually, lollipop sticks are one of the big things we’re finding nowadays,” said Susan Elliott, environmental program coordinator for Gumbo Limbo Nature Center, which assists Keep Palm Beach County Beautiful in running the Coastal Cleanup.
The worldwide cleanup effort included numerous South Florida locales and beaches throughout Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties. In Palm Beach, a crew of 100 was at Red Reef Park and South Beach Park. Red Reef had two clubs from Florida Atlantic University — SAVI (Students Advocating Volunteer Involvement) and the Marine Science Club — and the Marine Conservation Club from Spanish River High School. A crew from 4Ocean, the worldwide group that cleans plastic from oceans, was at South Beach Park.
Despite all the interesting findings, plastic, in its many forms, including water bottles, caps from water bottles, sandwich bags and straws, remains a top garbage item removed from beaches, waterways and coastlines, according to experts.
Plastic doesn’t decompose easily, and in some cases not at all, which means it could stay around for decades or longer. Also, it can break down into tiny pieces called microplastics that get into the water, get eaten by fish, and then enter the food chain for humans to consume when they eat seafood.
But a familiar foe remains a popular garbage item on beaches.
“It seems like the No. 1 item picked up around the world is cigarette butts,” said Lourdes Ferris, executive director of Keep Palm Beach County Beautiful.
“But that’s being replaced with plastics like bottle caps and single-use cutlery.”
Dan Spagnolo, a Delray Beach resident, participated in the cleanup with a group of seven that included his wife, mother-in-law and daughter. And they came prepared.
After cleaning for a while, they broke out lawn chairs and had some lunch, and then went back to work.
“It’s good for the environment, and good for Mother Earth,” Spagnolo said.
The Spagnolos also do turtle walks, where people, along with park rangers, walk along the beaches and observe, from a safe distance, sea turtle nests.
The Spagnolos’ beach cleanup haul Saturday was fairly typical.
“A fair amount of cigarette butts,” Spagnolo said.
“A lot of plastic,” he said.
Each of Saturday’s participants received a T-shirt that included the hashtag #152andyou. The hashtag, Ferris said, represents a study that said if everyone picked up 152 pieces of trash there’d be no more litter.
This year, for the first time, volunteers can record what they collect on the Clean Swell app. The Ocean Conservancy, which runs the International Coastal Cleanup, will catalog the trash and that information will assist in setting public policy on things such as plastic straws, which have been banned in many cities.
As for the Rowleys, they’ll participate in more beach cleanups soon. They do them almost every month. And they often choose the most ambitious area, the mangroves, which are crowded with roots, water and uneven ground, instead of the beaches.
On Saturday, the Rowleys found a three-foot black plastic standing ashtray in the mangroves. A couple of years ago they found a book of blueprints for buildings in Boca Raton. They enjoy cleaning the mangroves.
“There’s always the most garbage down there,” Jessica said.