TAMPA — The Hillsborough County coastline is tons cleaner today.
Thanks to the efforts of thousands of volunteers an estimated 40 tons of litter and debris was removed from 42 waterfront sites throughout the county in a couple of hours Saturday.
It was dirty, stinky and sweaty work that brought together men, women and children as young as 2 years old for the 26th Annual Hillsborough River and Coastal Cleanup. The event was sponsored by Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful, and coincided with the Ocean Conservancy’s annual International Coastal Cleanup.
First-time participant Lauren Gonzalvo, 9, a member of Junior Girl Scout Troop 1457 in South Tampa, might have summed up the event the best:
“I really like being out in nature and helping it to stay green,” said the fourth-grader at Gorrie Elementary School in Tampa’s Hyde Park neighborhood.
Lauren and her fellow Girl Scouts were among an estimated 4,000 volunteers throughout Hillsborough who picked up about 80,000 pounds of litter and debris, Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful spokeswoman Pat Deplasco said.
Volunteers represented elementary, middle, high and Montessori schools; churches and clubs; community and civic organizations; corporate groups; and eco-conscious people from every corner of the county.
They scoured the county’s beaches, lakes, ponds, streams and rivers seeking items to bag and throw away.
The cleanup targeted the Hillsborough and Alafia rivers, parts of Tampa Bay, and other waterways extending north to Lutz and Thonotosassa, south to Ruskin, and east to Plant City.
A record number of volunteers representing a dozen groups showed up for cleanup duty at the Davis Islands Sea Plane Basin near the Peter O. Knight Municipal Airport from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Saturday.
There were more than 100 people, including the Girl Scouts from Troop 1457; members of Boy Scout Troop 22 from Hyde Park United Methodist Church; 10th-graders from Plant and Robinson high schools; students, parents and teachers from Community Montessori School on Webb Road in Town ‘N Country; and members of the Davis Islands Yacht Club.
If not for the cleanup, Gorrie Elementary fourth-grader Kendall Gadsby, 9, said she would have been home watching Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory for a homework assignment. Instead, the Girl Scout jumped at the chance to pick up community service hours.
The cleanup yielded litter such as cigarette butts, soda cans, plastic bags and bottles, food wrappers, bottle caps, straws, Styrofoam, and plastic forks, knives and spoons.
A used diaper and a large fish hook were a couple of unexpected “scary” finds for volunteers on Davis Islands, they said.
By 10:30 a.m., two truckloads of trash including plywood, cushions and construction materials were ready for pick up.
“All kinds of things wash up on the (Davis Islands) beaches,” said T.J. King, the Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful site coordinator for Davis Islands.
“This program occurs twice a year but it probably isn’t enough,” said King, who is a financial advisor at Raymond James & Associates. “We are thinking about putting together small groups to do a cleanup when we see a specific need. Usually after a big storm we see a lot of debris wash up.”
The cleanup culminated Saturday with a Rally on the River celebration and recycle regatta at Lowry Park in North Tampa. Volunteers tested their skills on the Hillsborough River in floating vessels made of recovered trash.
The cleanup project wraps up Sept. 28 at Lake Frances Preserve in Northwest Hillsborough County. Volunteers with Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful will recognize the 25th anniversary of Hillsborough County’s first ELAPP purchase by planting native vegetation at 19510 Crescent Lane in Odessa.
The area’s next big coastal cleanup will be the Tampa Bay Great American Cleanup in April.