One of the best holidays in our country is the 4th of July! Our nation — turning 238 years old — knows how to put on a party, right? It is a day to reflect why our nation is so great, how we are the luckiest citizens on earth, and be thankful for all those that have and do ensure that the United States remains the “land of the free.”
It has always been such a big, happy, fun-filled holiday for my family growing up in California in a small town and then raising my own family on Marco Island. Most everyone around here heads to the beach by car or boat, ready to eat burgers and hot dogs, potato salad and ice cream most of the afternoon, while family and friends relax.
Most folks will hear as the day’s background sounds: waves lapping, horseshoes ringing throw after throw, loud splashes and laughter from the Gulf, and perhaps in late afternoon, the thunder start to roll. My daughters, since they were babies, now both in their 20s, have enjoyed the Resident’s Beach party and fireworks that fill the sky over this island. That light show is such a spectacular sight after a day of boating and beaching with family and friends. Uncle Sam’s Sand Jam, this year’s event at the beach will no doubt be a great celebration as ever, but let’s make it even better by respecting our beach.
We are very fortunate to have such a beautiful beach that most of us visit every day. It’s not a surprise that more and more visitors are discovering the fact that Marco Island’s beach is, well, perfection. One can walk for literally miles, pick up dozens of types of shells, see dolphin and manatee yards away as they cruise by nearshore, view wildlife such as shorebirds up close, take a warm water swim, be adventurous on a jet ski or parasail and witness a jaw-dropping sunset on any given day. One could just pull up a chair and read a book too. It’s just paradise in every sense.
It has been an effort over the last few years to keep up with the trash that ultimately results from more people visiting the beach. It’s not apparent at first, but all those bits and pieces of plastic wrappers, straws, bottle caps and cigarette butts do add up — so much so, the local Volunteer Beach Stewards easily collect a bag of trash on their daily walks and during monthly beach clean ups, and dozens of bags can be filled in a couple hours. Each week, hundreds of plastic straws are collected by these volunteers; counting straws is not something a beach walker wants to do while strolling or shelling.
Unfortunately, one of the trashiest days on Marco Island’s beach is always July 5 — from too-many-to-count beverage bottles and cans to food and its single-use plastic and styrofoam containers and wrappers to broken chairs and tents, plastic toys and even entire grills. The firework debris also is spread across the sand. These patriotic beachgoers come for the day, celebrate and leave…empty handed. Perhaps they think “someone else” will take care of the mess. Why is this?
That “someone” else is us. Let’s celebrate our nations’ birthday by respecting our beach. It’s easy. Whatever you pack to take on the boat or to the beach stay away from plastic and single-use containers. Use reusable containers, and make sure you bring it home. Bring your own trash bags to make sure you can pack everything back home. When you walk down the beach, pick up any trash you see. Then dispose of it properly, recycling all that is appropriate. This will keep trash and plastic off the beach and out of the Gulf of Mexico. It is estimated that every piece of plastic that makes it to the ocean survives for 50 years floating around, harmful to sea life and naturally, in turn, our lives.
Interested in getting more involved to conserve and protect Marco Island’s beautiful beach? On our nation’s birthday, respect our beach by giving yourself a gift, a gift to conserve and protect our beach. Here are a few easy ideas:
- Participate in a monthly beach clean up: The city of Marco Island’s Beach Advisory Committee organizes monthly beach clean ups with local businesses and groups. All public are welcome to join in. Other groups on the island also have clean ups, such as Friends of Tigertail and Kiwanis. Contact the city of Marco Island for more information on upcoming dates at 239-389-5003 or go to www.cityofmarcoisland.com.
- Become a Volunteer Beach Steward: Volunteer Stewards are local ombudsmen for the beach. They answer questions on shorebirds, sea turtles, shells and much more. They remind beach goers that no glass, bikes and dogs are allowed on the Marco Island beach. If interested in protecting Marco Island’s beach, please call the city of Marco Island at 239-389-5003.
- Become a Collier County Shorebird Steward: During the spring months, Least Terns, Black Skimmers and Wilson Plovers nest and hatch tiny chicks on the beaches. Shorebird Stewards educate and provide viewing opportunities to all who are interested. It is an experience you will never forget. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Join or support organizations that protect the beach, the Gulf of Mexico and its wildlife: Locally, the Friends of Tigertail proactively educate the public and monitor and improve the Tigertail Beach area habitat. To be a member, volunteer or to participate in one of their many activities and presentations, please go to www.friendsoftigertail.com. Other local groups, all which have many opportunities for volunteering that support our local beaches and wildlife, are Friends of Rookery Bay (www.rookerybay.org), the Conservancy of Southwest Florida (www.conservancy.org) and the Audubon of the Western Everglades (Collier Audubon) (www.collieraudubon.org).
Happy 4th of July! Let’s wish our nation a very happy birthday by respecting our beautiful beach!
For more beach and bird information, please contact Nancy Richie, City of Marco Island, at 239-389-5003 or email@example.com