By Julia Barnett
Saturday, September 8, twenty three volunteers gathered at the Pelican Bend Restaurant on Isles of Capri at 8 in the morning, smelling of sunscreen and loaded down with bottles of water, smiling despite the already stifling heat. These were the men and women who willingly gave up their Saturday morning to participate in the fourth annual Keeywaydin clean-up, picking up trash off the island’s beach.
Waiting at the dock was the catamaran Calusa Spirit, ready to bring the volunteers to Keewaydin Island and back. Donated by Marco Island Water Sports for the morning, along with the time of owner and company president Mark Bahr, and Captain Joe Richards, Calusa Spirit was a beautiful way to carry volunteers in style. Mark donates the boat every year for the clean-up, and when asked why, said that he “understands that both tourists and locals use the beach continuously, and, being in the water sports business, he knows how important it is to keep the beach clean, as well as to keep the people coming and keep the local animals safe.”
Said carrying had to wait, however, for a quick downpour to make its way across the sky. Once the rain was done, Calusa Spirit was off to Keewaydin.
Keewaydin Island is a narrow strip of land, approximately seven or eight miles long, making it the longest “un-bridged” barrier island along the Gulf coast of Florida. Along one side of the island is beautiful Florida beach.
On the opposite side, and weaving a path through the beach, is shrubbery, pines, palms, and sea oats; it’s a lush world of various hues of green, like a Floridian Enchanted Forest. Home to a few humans, Loggerhead sea turtle nests, least terns, and even the occasional Florida panther, Keewaydin is a local paradise.
And the locals would like to keep it that way. This desire is what inspired Dave Bruening of the Sheriff’s department to pitch the idea of the first Keeywaydin Clean-up, four years ago.
“All of the other beaches get a lot of attention, because they’re easily accessible,” Dave explained. “Keeywaydin doesn’t have anyone to take care of the beach proper. Out there, debris floats up from boats.” He decided something needed to be done, and the project was born.
But it wasn’t all the Sheriff’s Department. Keep Collier Beautiful–an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, Inc., and a non-profit organization working to improve waste handling in Collier County—donates t-shirts, garbage bags, gloves, and even some trash grabbers, as well as their own time to help out. Rookery Bay also donates time and trash bags, as well as assisting in trash pick-up.
In its first and second years, the clean-up had 30-35 people volunteer. The third year, the amount of willing and ready participants reached around 70, calling for the use of two boats.
This year, the clean-up was split between two weekends, but the first weekend was, unfortunately, cancelled due to the storm Isaac. It had had around 25 people signed up, and Lenny Wasserman had donated his sailboat, Sweet Liberty, as the transportation to the island. The spaces available for both weekends were full a good two weeks before the first scheduled trip, totaling around 70 volunteers, with a wait list in case of cancellations.
When asked about how it felt to have such a great response, Dave said that “it’s awesome. It’s good to see that there’s that many people interested in spending their Saturday picking up trash.”
Which is exactly what the twenty-three volunteers did on September 8—spend their Saturday picking up trash. Upon arrival on the beach, the volunteers loaded themselves up with trash bags, gloves, trash grabbers, and bottles of water thoughtfully provided by the Sheriff’s Department. They made their way through the brush to the beach side of the island and set off in various directions, some pairing up and others wandering solo. Trash and debris was gathered from the beach proper and the bush and brush nearby.
Some strange things were found. There were planks of wood, a few lawn chairs, and even a couple of parts to a vacuum, found by Fay Brett. There was glass, which is illegal to have on the beach, and aluminum cans. The most common trash was, however, plastic. Plastic bottles, caps, pens, and sheets.
The trash was bagged—and separated into trash and recyclables—and piled near the dock on the island, waiting for representatives from the Sheriff’s Department and volunteers from Rookery Bay to come, collect it, and dispose of it properly.
Keewaydin is a little bit cleaner, thanks to all of the volunteers that day. And you can do your part too, if not by volunteering, then by cleaning up any trash you see on Keewaydin or any of our other local beaches. Anything too large to pick up yourself, you can always call the Sheriff’s Department with the location and someone will go and collect it.
As Dave puts it, “it’s a beautiful environment and they’d like to keep it that way.”
Keep Collier Beautiful and the Collier County Sheriff’s office would like to thank all the volunteers as well as Mark Bahr and Marco Island Watersports for making the fourth annual Keewaydin clean-up successful.