Residents of Marco Island and visitors alike enjoy visiting its long stretch of beach which runs nearly three miles from Cape Marco to Hideaway Beach. The beaches seem pristine with white sands and a beautiful slow tide that drifts in and out. Unfortunately, the litter that scatters the beach is often ignored. Marco Island resident and Florida Gulf Coast University student, Joshua Erickson, recently decided to do something about the trash on the beach. As he began his spring semester at FGCU, Erickson, who is working towards a Bachelor’s of Science in Environmental Studies, was able to turn his personal mission into a school project.
Erickson has been working on the Marco beaches for over two years. While renting jet skis, parasail rides and umbrellas and chairs to locals and visitors, he began to notice the amount of litter that was left on the beach day after day. “I was constantly picking up straws, cups and plastic bags. I noticed that most of the garbage was actually recyclable.” A personal survey revealed that few, if any, condominiums and hotels offered garbage cans at their beach entrances. Even more concerning was the fact that not one recycling bin was located along the beach. He attended a local Beach Advisory Committee meeting to address the issue. Nancy Richie, lead environmental specialist and President of the Beach Advisory Committee was very supportive of the idea, yet could not help to contribute due to budgeting concerns. Condominium owners also expressed their concern over who would be responsible for caring and maintaining such containers.
Around this same time, Erickson began a Civic Engagement class at FGCU. The class was given a semester-long project in which they were to identify a community problem and attempt to make a difference through appropriate government channels. As Erickson was already in the middle of his own personal community issue, he chose to use this as his class assignment. He enlisted the help of fellow classmates Meaghan Shaw and Neil Ayers. The three began to brainstorm ideas as to how they could bring awareness to the issue of trash along the beach as well as how to integrate recycling bins along Marco’s beaches.
The group struggled to find any hotel or condo which would allow them to place containers near their boardwalks. Frustrated with their attempts, the group signed up for a local beach clean-up to help draw attention to the issue. They went on to host two of their own clean-ups, one being sponsored by FGCU. The clean-up led Marco Island Ski and Water Sports owner, Mark Bahr, to take notice. According to Erickson, “Mr. Bahr was very supportive of the idea. He offered to have his employees empty and maintain any cans that our group could provide.”
In order to obtain proper recycle bins, the group spoke with Waste Management in hopes for a possible donation. After an initial positive reaction, Waste Management later decided they could not contribute. It soon became clear to the three that if you want to get something done, you have to do it yourself. Erickson, Ayers and Shaw chipped in to buy two metal garbage cans. Meaghan Shaw put her artistic skills to work to create two beautifully painted recycling bins for Marco’s beach. The cans were placed at the Marco Island Ski and Water Sports hut located outside the Marriott’s Crystal Shores and Stilts Restaurant. “Even though the busy season is over, both cans fill to the brim every day. I’m sure when next season rolls around they will need to be emptied at least twice a day,” notes Erickson.
While the initial goal of having recycle bins placed along the stretch of Marco’s beaches was not attained, the group felt very pleased with what they did accomplish. Their efforts are an example of how one person (or three people) can make a difference. If you are concerned about the lack of recycle bins on Marco’s shores, attend the Beach Advisory Committee Meetings held once a month at City Hall at 50 Bald Eagle Drive. The next meeting will be held at 9 AM on Thursday, June 16th. All future meetings may be found at cityofmarcoisland.com