Coastal Cleanup 2014

I will be out on the beach on Manasota Key this Saturday morning picking up trash.  That is how I spend every weekend that I can manage to get away from Peace River Wildlife Center.  The unusual thing about this weekend is that I will not be alone.  Not that I find myself strolling a deserted beach very often.  This weekend marks the 28th anniversary of the International Coastal Cleanup and I will be joined, at least in spirit, by kindred people from all over the globe.  According to Ocean Conservancy’s web site, “last year an astounding 648,015 volunteers in 92 countries picked up more than 12.3 million pounds of trash” in their respective sites.

The Coastal Cleanup is not offered as a solution to the problem of pollution, but rather as a snapshot of what is fouling the world’s waterways in a given moment in time.  People from around the area, across the country, and around the world will be pitching in to help protect the world’s oceans, lakes, and rivers.  This is a wonderful way to bring attention to the sheer volume of garbage that ends up in and near our waterways and the potential damage that can be done by all that waste.  I love this idea so much I don’t just do it once a year.  That is why I can often be found perusing the beach from Stump Pass Park to Blind Pass Beach with a bag in my hands.  While many of the people I pass have bags full of shells and shark’s teeth, my “treasures” are literally trash.

My family and friends find my pastime a little odd.  I can only imagine what passing strangers must think.  As a wildlife veterinarian I like to think of it as preventative medicine.  Every plastic bag I pick up is one less intestinal obstruction for a sea turtle that would have mistaken it for a delicious jellyfish.  Those burst helium balloons, released with the best of intentions to celebrate a wedding or honour the beloved deceased, with their dangling strings will not get wrapped around some poor bird’s feet, wings or beak—or worse yet, all three, as is often the case.  Each renegade fishing hook I discover is one less nasty puncture in the foot of a child frolicking in the surf.  I must have been Florence Nightingale in a previous life.  I’m kidding, of course.  I was a fly.

When people joke about reincarnation, they were always someone famous (or infamous).  Everyone was Betsy Ross or Hannibal Lecter.  No one was ever King Tut’s embalmer or just girl #3 sweeping floor.  If there is anything to this business of reincarnation and dim remembrances of past lives, I’m pretty I can follow my ascent to the top of the food chain.  My innate fear of spiders points to my aforementioned life as a fly, cut short to sustain a hungry arachnid.  I can commiserate with the rabbits in our care at PRWC as they flinch and jump at every loud sound because of my own intolerance for loud noises leads me to believe I spent time as one of “nature’s French fries”—a prey species that every other species likes to eat.  My poor eyesight was probably my undoing as a bird of prey.  I must not have spent any time as an elephant or surely my memory would be much sharper than it is.

As a human I try to be mindful of all other life forms with which we share this planet.  We are so fortunate here in Southwest Florida to share our home with many different species.  From alligators to tarpon, eagles to raccoons, and gopher tortoises to the plants lining the dunes of the beach, we must respect and protect them all.  They all serve a purpose and we have encroached on their territory, so try to be a good neighbor.

If you would like to get involved with a formal cleanup crew, Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center is meeting at Cedar Point Environmental Park in Englewood Saturday morning September  9/20 from 9-12.  Call them for more info at 941-475-0769.  Or join me for a bit of informal fun and walk the beach, a path, nature trail, or even your own neighborhood and pick up any litter you find.  Remember, we don’t  inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.


by–Robin Jenkins, DVM

A laughing gull entangled in improperly discarded fishing tackle.
top 10
Top 10 items found during Coastal Cleanup 2013