TAMPA — Early Saturday morning, divers in the waters off Ballast Point retrieved hundreds of pounds of broken glass, old fishing nets and discarded fish hooks from the bottom of Hillsborough Bay.
They hauled their catch onto the shore, where a team of volunteers catalogued each item. In addition to all the garbage, they found an old truck tire, three fishing poles, a computer hard drive, a cell phone and a barnacle-covered flower vase.
All that information will be sent to Ocean Conservancy, an international organization that studies and advocates for healthy oceans, and to Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, which organized the local Great American Cleanup event this weekend.
“It went really, really well,” said Patricia DePlasco, community relations director for Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful.
More than 3,000 volunteers scoured 70-plus locations across Hillsborough County and removed about 62,000 pounds of litter and debris Saturday, DePlasco said. They covered 150 miles of road, 650 acres of parks and uplands, and 100 miles of rivers, lakes and shorelines.
Keep America Beautiful, the national umbrella organization, ranked Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful and the local cleanup first in the nation for its size in 2013.
“We did really well this year,” DePlasco said. “But it’s not just us; it’s all the volunteers. We put the projects out there, but we’re so grateful that we have such an engaged community.”
In addition to the litter pick-up, volunteers planted fruit trees in city parks, cleaned illegal dump sites in Gibsonton, worked in the community garden at the Brandon Community Center and removed invasive plants at the Skyway and Alafia River state parks, DePlasco said.
The cleanup at Ballast Point was led by members of the Tampa Bay Green Consortium, a group that promotes aquatic conservation. The group’s divers have collected more than 8,000 pounds of trash in the past five years, said CEO Dan Fisher.
The trash at Ballast Point is a combination of litter from the park and what washes in with the current, he said.
“It’s a constant cleaning process,” Fisher said.
Volunteers collected more than 400 pounds of trash at Ballast Point Park alone, but it still was not as bad as other cleanup spots Rebecca Boffoli has seen.
She spent the morning picking up broken glass and cans, and untangling deflated balloons, from mangrove trees lining the shore.
“It’s just a shame how much trash you see,” Boffoli said.