MARCO ISLAND — People like helping out in ways where they can see the difference they make. Saturday morning, they can.
There is no more hands-on way to help save the planet, or at least a little corner of it, than removing trash from the beach. The Friends of Tigertail sponsors a quarterly beach cleanup, and the summer event is set to take place Saturday, July 16, from 8 a.m. to noon.
“It’s a numbers game,” said Susan LaGrotta, stewardship chairperson for the Friends of Tigertail, a citizens’ support group Dedicated to preserving, protecting and enhancing the active natural systems of Tigertail Beach, today and in the future. “A lot of our people are gone during the summer, so it’s always harder to bring out people to help in July. It’s a low ebb for volunteers.”
Everyone is welcome, stressed LaGrotta, not just members of the Friends organization. Volunteers need only show up at the kiosk at Tigertail Beach. Garbage bags, water bottles, and disposable gloves are provided to workers. They should bring a hat and/or sunscreen, and wear shoes that can get wet, she said.
“It’s going to be hot. We don’t want people frying on the beach,” added LaGrotta, urging volunteers to show up earlier rather than later.
During the school year, groups of students show up for the cleanup, but with schools out for the summer, those kids are not available. At recent cleanups, students from Lely High School, the Key Club at Seacrest Country Day School, and the recently shuttered Winterberry Christian Academy have all participated.
But students who do volunteer individually get credit for the volunteer hours, which many high schoolers need for graduation or scholarship requirements, she said. “We provide the certificate you submit to your school,” she said.
The sea yields up a wide and diverse array of jetsam to the cleanup crews. Past hauls have included vehicle tires, beach chairs and umbrellas, sunglasses, towels, odd shoes, Styrofoam fishing floats, crab traps, and even shipwrecked boats, broken up into bits or whole. Along with empty beverage containers, though, the most prevalent item on the beach, quarter after quarter, is the ubiquitous cigarette butt, as so many smokers seem to believe the virtually indestructible items somehow don’t count as trash.
“You always see this,” said volunteer Marty Roddy, whose wife Debbie is the president of Friends of Tigertail. “Some people think the world is their ashtray.”
Not all of the cleanup has to happen on just four days a year, said LaGrotta.
“A lot of our members walk the beach every day, and many of them take plastic bags along with them,” and bring back the trash they find, she said. And that points up the additional benefit volunteers derive from participating in the cleanup, along with the feeling of having made the world a better, cleaner place, and for the teenagers, those certified volunteer hours.
Tigertail Beach is a beautiful strip of natural environment, and a very nice place to walk. The sea oats, the water, the sand underfoot and the sky overhead are always there, and one never knows what a morning walk will turn up. Black skimmers, snowy plovers, and least terns all nest on the beach at Tigertail and the adjacent Big Marco Pass Critical Wildlife Area, and pelicans, ospreys, cormorants, frigate birds, and even a bald eagle may come by for a visit.
The water off the beach is patrolled by rays, bottlenose dolphins, and schools of shiny baitfish. To get there, people must wade the lagoon, or walk around, but doing so gives a firsthand look at what is happening on the ever-changing coastline.
“Sand Dollar Island is growing by leaps and bounds, north and east into the river,” said LaGrotta. A slideshow on the Friends of Tigertail website, www.friendsoftigertail.com, shows the historical ebb and flow of the barrier islands, and the growth and then disappearance of Coconut Island.
To be a hero of the environment, just show up at Tigertail Beach and the end of Hernando Drive, off Tigertail Court or Kendall Drive, ready to pick trash. If you can’t make it Saturday, you’ll have another chance at the next cleanup, scheduled for Sept. 17.