Coastal Cleanup nets big haul

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By Jenna McKenna

Saturday's Coastal Cleanup of the area around Cedar Key and the Lower Suwannee Refuge was a big success. Toxic and entangling debris that kills seabirds, fouls fishing grounds and pollutes shellfish beds was hauled from various tender spots around the Levy County coastline.

Co-organizer Sue Colson was cautiously thrilled, saying that this year's numbers were almost equal to last year's, after a very slow start in the morning.

"I was so down early Saturday," she said. "I didn't think anybody was going to show up, it was so slow. But they did, and look how much we got done!"

Clammer Ricky Cooke harvested an enormous pile of covernet, recycling the best pieces back to his own stock for reuse. Rory Cantwell brought his bird dog in several times, his clam baskets overflowing with bottles and cans.

The display of trash at the city marina was impressive, with a landscape trailer piled ever higher with tires, cinderblocks and joint-compound buckets. Captains Brian Mattice of Island Hopper and Doug Maple of Tidewater Tours took refuse harvesters out to the grassy islands to collect flotsam and jetsam, as did volunteers from Friends of the Lower Suwannee Refuge. UF/IFAS Shellfish Extension agent Leslie Sturmer helped Colson sift the detritus and catalogue it.

The Ocean Conservancy, which organizes the Internation Coastal Cleanup (of which Cedar Key/Levy County's effort was a part) likes to see what kind of trash a given area spawns - which junk is universal and which is peculiar to that locale.

Cedar Key is a fishing community, and expects to see debris from fishing and aquaculture industries, such as monofilament line and clam bag cover net. These they found, Colson said, but by far the most prevalent and troublesome object in everyone's collection was plastic containers.

"We had 180 plastic bags this year, up from 79 last year," Colson said, "and 521 plastic drink bottles, up from 408."

Plastics are especially a problem in the water. Turtles think bags are jellyfish; they eat them and die. Seabirds get tangled in fishing net and line and die, as do marine mammals like porpoises. Plastics don't biodegrade, but some types photodegrade (break down in the sun). The resulting small pieces float suspended in the ocean, and become a bulky, toxic, non-nutritive additive to the diets of birds, fish and whales, which may then - you guessed it - die.

The biggest haul of the day - half of all the debris collected - came from one crew at one location: Back Bayou between Cedar Key School and the SR 24 Jiffy. Chris Reynolds and Linda Seyfarth and their children Chloe and Ridley Reynolds pulled five tires, about 50 pieces of lumber, several buckets, clam bags, cover net, oil containers, styrofoam coolers and more out of one little stretch of marsh.

"That was the worst location in the entire area," Colson said.

Nancy Taylor had the biggest individual haul, cleaning Cemetery Point Park all by herself, and hauling several bag loads down a half mile of boardwalk.

Participation was slightly down from last year - 10 miles covered compared to 15, about 500 pounds less trash collected. Colson hopes more people will help out in years to come, so that the shores of Levy County can be cleaned more extensively.

Better still, less stuff could be discarded into the waterways.

"These plastic bags just have to stop," Colson said. "And the plastic bottles - nearly all of them were water bottles."

Yes, Saturday's pickup was a success, if by success you meant that 54 volunteers collecting an estimated 1,500 pounds of garbage over a 10-mile area is a good thing.

It's better than one alternative, that no volunteers show up and the 1,500 pounds of debris remains uncollected.

But it's not as good as sending 54 people out to scour the shoreline and having them find...nothing. No plastic bags, no cigarette butts, no pressure-treated lumber, rebar or monofilament. No polystyrene to-go boxes, beer cans or hypodermic syringes.

Nothing but driftwood, shells and the occasional picked carcass, courtesy of the shore-dwelling birds and animals.

Kind of the way it used to be.

What they found:

Plastic bags: last year, 79; this year, 180

Plastic beverage bottles: last year, 408; this year, 521

Glass bottles: last year, 507; this year, 337

Aluminum cans: last year, 369; this year, 382

Plastic food containers: last year, 357; this year, 251

Six-pack rings: last year, 2; this year, 0

Bait packaging: last year, 9; this year, 82

Bleach containers: last year, 3; this year, 21

Fishing line (feet): last year, 48; this year, 12

Light bulbs: last year, 5; this year, 4

Cigarette butts: last year, 800; this year, 150 (last year volunteers collected Dock and 2nd streets)

Cigarette packages: last year, 7; this year, 18

Building materials (pieces): last year, 17; this year, 95

Hypodermic syringes: last year, 0; this year, 1 (first time)

Cover net: last year, 29; this year, 38

To see what volunteers in the U.S. and worldwide found in their water, visit http://www.oceanconservancy.org/