MARCO ISLAND — As volunteer work goes, this was a walk on the beach. And a record-high 95 volunteers did walk on Tigertail Beach, as well as scouring the mangroves, the lagoon and the parking lot, as part of the Friends of Tigertail's quarterly cleanup on Saturday morning.
The Friends' September effort is part of the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup. On the third Saturday in September every year, volunteers around the world, thinking globally and acting locally, go out near their own communities, pick up and tabulate the trash they find, and provide a treasure trove of data on what is getting dumped into the world's oceans.
Sometimes, the volunteers are not in their own communities. Michelle and Craig Gilley, visiting from St. Louis, said they heard about the cleanup in the newspaper, and decided to come and help clean up the beaches they had come to enjoy.
"Look, I found Wilson," said Michelle, pulling out a round Styrofoam float from her black trash bag. Far down the Tigertail spit, with virtually no other people in sight, the analogy to Tom Hanks' "Castaway" didn't seem too farfetched.
The end of the spit, where a breach has limited how far one can walk and given a measure of privacy to the birds on the other side of the channel, was also the end of the line for one wild creature. The front half of a wild hog, covered with bristling black hair and as assortment of buzzing black flies, not to mention a ripe odor if you got downwind, counted as one of the more unusual items of debris on the beach.
At least, if the unfortunate pig did not fit into the volunteers' collection bags, time and scavengers can be counted on to pick it clean, which is more than you can say for the half dozen tires found Saturday. The tires, said Friends of Tigertail Beach president Debbie Roddy, are breaking loose from an artificial reef deposited decades ago off the coast.
Margaret Ziegler brought back a plank of artificial wood from a dock or boardwalk. Scott Moyer, over from Isles of Caprit to help with the cleanup, found the carcass of a batfish, the sea monsterish creature that Rookery Bay has taken for its mascot. But most of the trash was of the more mundane variety.
As is generally the case, cigarette butts were once again the number one item collected, said Friends stewardship chairman Susan LaGrotta. In last year's International Coastal Cleanup, 2 million butts were removed from the world's coasts in one day. Note to smokers: Yes, they are trash and no, they don't just disappear.
Aluminum cans, plastic cups, glass bottles, plastic toys, bags, and candy wrappers came in by the bagful, along with some of the plastic straws and cup lids that were an issue recently at the city's Planning Board.
"It's amazing the stuff people leave on the beach," said Roddy. "I'm always cleaning the trash out. It just makes me sick." Used diapers and feminine hygiene products were additional examples that not everyone who wants to enjoy the beach experience can be relied on to preserve its beauty for others.
The many volunteers who did show up to clean up after the less considerate constituted a hopeful sign that more people realize active stewardship is required to preserve our natural resources. Laura Ageles led a group of 23 Walgreens employees, representing stores all the way to Fort Myers. Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts from Troop #234 and #467, many with their parents, came to lend their hands, shepherded by committee chair Linda Chute.
The data from Marco's cleanup will be tabulated and uploaded to the Ocean Conservancy, helping to create an ongoing record. The Friends of Tigertail's next quarterly cleanup takes place on Saturday, December 8, from 8 a.m. to noon.
For more information on the Friends of Tigertail Beach go online to www.friendsoftigertail.com.