On Sept. 19, the Longboat Key Turtle Watch was just one of thousands of groups worldwide cleaning up beaches for the annual International Coastal Cleanup. Around two dozen people showed up and dispersed along the island’s beaches, armed with gloves and reusable bags for toting trash.
The International Coastal Cleanup event is one of the LBKTW’s bigger annual cleanup efforts, the other being the Great American Cleanup. They report their gathered refuse back to the county (in this case, Keep Manatee Beautiful), the county reports to the state, and so on until the International Coastal Cleanup has its global data.
Internationally, cleaners are logging exactly what they pick up (bottle caps, microplastics, straws or other common garbage classifications), but LBKTW didn’t ask its volunteers to log every piece, just guesstimate the weight of the bags they filled.
“During turtle season we pick stuff up every single day and we don’t report it,” Seamon said. “When turtle season is done Dawn (DiFoggio, organizer) will organize a cleanup in the morning or evening and just try to and get people out to do stuff.”
Instead of a shirt, volunteers could get a Keep Manatee Beautiful mask this year, and after they met for their group photo near Christ Church of Longboat Key they were off. Some, like LBKTW president Cyndi Seamon’s group, had just a small swath of beach to patrol, but they still found plenty of debris, especially in the vegetation line.
“You can walk this same stretch and everything keeps coming back in,” trash volunteer Carlyn Vigil said.
Seamon, Vigil and volunteer Laurel Phillips walked north on the beach, pulling their masks down as they were able to stay distant from each other and rarely speaking as they followed their own paths with their eyes trained on the ground. They were sometimes tricked by shells, and Seamon stopped to monitor a couple of turtle nests along the way. Even after they turned around and went back they way they came, they found more detritus within the dunes. When they were done with their journey, they organized and weighed it all.
“We should start a show called, ‘Name that Plastic,’” Phillips said as they spread out their bits and bobs on a wooden table before bagging it and estimating the weight.
Much of what they gathered was unidentifiable bits of microplastics, which organizer Dawn DiFoggio had told them to keep an eye out for. As “turtle people,” she said, they know that that’s what turtles like and will eat. There were also dozens of plastic bottle caps across all the groups, which Seamon said they had been finding a strange amount of recently.
“This week when we’ve walked that has been the thing we’ve picked up the most of,” Seamon said. “Not the bottles, just the caps. It’s really weird.”
In all, Seamon’s group picked up about three pounds of trash between them, finding no recyclables among the refuse, but that was small potatoes compared to the rest of the group. As a whole, the Longboat Key Turtle Watch contingent removed about 324 pounds of trash and 46 pounds of recyclables from the beach. They’ll begin meeting monthly for cleanups starting in October.