On Feb. 20, four groups of volunteers spread out along the Manatee County beaches of Longboat Key and spent the morning crouching over the sand, searching for bits of refuse.
On Greer Island, Longboat Key Turtle Watch vice president Cyndi Seamon and volunteer Carlyn Vigil combed the sand, which has piled up since Tropical Storm Eta hit in November. New sand and buried trash have piled ashore, with the remnants of plenty of sandbags strewn about, too. As Seamon and her cleaning partner, Carlyn Vigil, picked up trash, Seamon noted larger items, like an abandoned duffel bag, construction debris and a stay-dry bag, and documented them to enlist a county official to help remove it.
The Longboat Key cleaners, led by the Longboat Key Turtle Watch, work with Keep Manatee Beautiful on these monthly cleanups. It's an extension of the annual agreement the groups have to host a joint cleanup for International Coastal Cleanup, which falls in September. Through their partnership, LBKTW is obligated to hold one cleanup a month when it's not turtle season; when it is, the patrols clean up the beach on their daily walks anyway.
“A lot of what we get during the offseason (is) Cyndi Seamon has accumulated a variety of neighbors and we call them beach cleanup helpers, and they don't want to do Longboat Key Turtle Watch, but they love to help,” cleanup organizer and LBKTW board member Dawn DiFoggio said.
DiFoggio is in charge of organizing the groups for each monthly cleanup, pairing longtime beach walkers with those newer to the area. She pulls from LBKTW volunteers and beach helpers alike and assigns them to turtle patrol zones for cleaning.
“This past weekend, I had more beach helper cleanup people than Longboat Key people,” DiFoggio said. “It really supplements because some people make such a big commitment in the summer during turtle season to come out here so they sometimes can’t do beach cleanup.”
Across the board, the cleanups have had more volunteers since the pandemic, noted Keep Manatee Beautiful executive director Jennifer Hoffman. The group’s first major cleanup of 2021 took place on Coquina Beach and drew 120 volunteers.
“We have had wonderful success with our cleanups this year it seems to be a trend that after being kind of locked up in COVID and keeping people at a distance, a lot of people are very interested in volunteering outdoors where they can be socially distant and do things with friends and family,” Hoffman said.