A summer permeated by “Turtles and Trash” and Leave No Trace, renouncing plastic straws and grabbing canvas tote bags to shop, will end, fittingly, with a cleanup of the area’s coastal areas.
The Ocean Conservancy will hold its annual International Coastal Cleanup along beaches around the globe Sept. 15, with volunteers gathering to perform the cleansing ritual on Mexico Beach and St. Joe Beach.
Volunteers will gather at the beach access point at the intersection of County 386 and U.S. 98 near the county line and across from the Lookout Lounge.
Sections of the beach will be assigned, trash bags, gloves and a sheet to document everything found, provided.
All trash bags will be securely placed at the nearest beach receptacle to be picked up by the public works departments from Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe.
“All residents are invited to come out and pick up trash while keeping track of what they find to help,” said Melina Elum, who has coordinated the cleanup the past few years. “That helps the Ocean Conservancy document how much and what kind of trash is being left behind on our beaches.
“Stuff like cigarette butts, food wrappers, plastic and glass bottles, plastic bags, plastic straws, and plastic stirrers. Yes, plastic, plastic and more plastic.”
This is a mighty timely effort given issues that have been part of the local dialogue this summer.
In that vein, this year the first 50 volunteers will be given, instead of t-shirts of the past, a box of paper straws.
The straws are donated by Nancy Jones and her partner, who operate a business called Flyaway which sells plastic straws to restaurants.
A percentage of straw sales are donated to the Forgotten Coast Sea Turtle Center.
“They are not only a better alternative (to plastic), but they are decorative and very cool looking as well,” Elum said of the straws, which are adorned with green turtles.
Jones was also the curator of The Joe Center for the Arts’ just-closed show, “Turtles and Trash.”
Jones became interested in an alternative for plastic straws while dining out locally.
She and her partner had a connection to a paper straw manufacturer in Indiana through environmental work the two had done while living in Atlanta.
“We have found it a great way to get the word out about changing our habits to help the Earth,” Jones said. “Looks like we are part of the coastal cleanup and we didn’t realize it.”
The couple are also performing quarterly micro plastics testing as part of a data collection project grant for the entire Gulf Coast out of Mississippi State University.
There is reward, beyond an inner satisfaction, at the end of the cleanup.
After all is picked up there will be refreshments and drawings for original beach art donated by members of the Art & Soul Painters’ group from St. James’ Episcopal Church.
“Please remember that behind each piece of trash there should have been a human action to prevent its ending up on the beach,” Elum said. “Let your concern for our beautiful beaches motivate you to join the cleanup.
“The international cleanup engages people to remove trash from the world’s beaches and waterways, identify the source of debris and change the behaviors. Any effort to remove (trash) will benefit the environment and improve the beach aesthetic.”
In the event of inclement weather, the cleanup will take place at the same time and place Saturday, Sept. 22.
Visit the Ocean Conservancy’s website oceanconservancy.org for more information on the international effort.
For questions or more information about the local cleanup, contact Elum at email@example.com.