Story by DOTTY NIST
International Coastal Cleanup Day allows citizens to be part of the solution to trash and its harmful impacts on the marine environment and waterways.
The 25th Annual Coastal Cleanup took place on Sept. 25. The event, established by the Ocean Conservancy, was observed in Walton County under the local sponsorship of the South Walton Tourist Development Council and Walton County schools.
This year the cleanup was coordinated from six sites along Walton County’s 26-mile coastline, including Miramar Beach Regional Beach Access, Dune Allen Regional Beach Access, Blue Mountain Regional Beach Access, Ed Walline Regional Beach Access, and Inlet Beach Regional Beach Access. Also, for the first time this year, through a partnership with the state park system, cleanup volunteers gathered at Topsail Preserve State Park to pick up trash and manmade debris along the park’s several miles of beachfront. Since the beach at Topsail Preserve is accessible only via a tram/bicycle path, many of the 15 participants rode to and from the cleanup on the park’s tram.
Complimentary cleanup supplies were provided at the six sites, along with drinking water. In recognition of their efforts, volunteers also received Coastal Cleanup t-shirts.
Local resident Tom Roache was accompanied by enthusiastic newer residents Pauline Gravier and Kevin MacDormand at Topsail Preserve for the event. Roache said he often participates in cleanups to help preserve Walton County’s natural beauty and environment.
Two beachgoers at Topsail, Rejeana Graves and Bunny Spinks, also helped with the cleanup after hearing about it from park personnel. Graves, who hails from Pinson, Ala., and Spinks, a Trussville, Ala., resident, said they visit Walton County’s beaches twice a year, in spring and fall.
Another family staying at the park joined in as well. Donna Goodall, her son Cole and daughter Hannah, along with grandmother Polly Manner, all reside in Canton, Ga. Cole said he wanted to participate, “to help the park and make it cleaner.”
Donna explained that the day before, the family had seen a gull with a fishing lure stuck in its beak. Manner said the sad sight was “a big inspiration” to help with the cleanup.
Trash not only impacts the aesthetics of the gulf, ocean, and waterways, it often poses a threat to living things, especially wildlife. Animals may try to eat plastic and other manmade debris, resulting in harm or death.
Cigarette butts and plastic seemed to be the most plentiful item collected on the beach at Topsail. However, among other items, two empty beer cans were picked, one of them rusty.
As trash and debris are collected, volunteers keep track of the number and type of items picked up. The Ocean Conservancy compiles and analyzes all data from the event. Reports from this information gathering serves as a catalyst for legislation aimed at reducing the trash and debris problem and for the creation of recycling programs.
The Ocean Conservancy reports that more than 500,000 volunteers in 108 countries participated in last year’s International Coastal Cleanup, collecting over 7.8 million pounds of trash and debris.
Established in 1972, the Ocean Conservancy advocates for a healthy and diverse environment for marine areas and waterways—and opposes threats to marine and human life. Information on the Ocean Conservancy and its programs is available at www.oceanconservancy.org.