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Tigertail Beach has something you can’t find anywhere else on Marco Island – a natural wilderness.

Look south, and you see the line of high-rise condominiums along the rest of the island’s Gulf beaches. But turn your head, and you see a slice of watery ecosystem much as it would appeared to the Calusa or Muspa Indians centuries before Europeans touched these shores. Silvery fish ripple the surface of the lagoon, shorebirds make the fish their breakfast, and fiddler crabs scurry into their holes as a human approaches.

Keeping this scene pristine is the mission of the Friends of Tigertail, who host four beach cleanups a year for that purpose. Beach cleanups are an ongoing feature of life in Southwest Florida and will be as long as less considerate beachgoers leave behind the tons of trash that the good Samaritans remove, cleanup after cleanup.

But once a year, the local efforts are part of a global push to not only remove as much garbage as possible from the earth’s shorelines, but to tabulate the findings, analyze the results, and include the data as part of an ongoing picture of how manmade waste is fouling our waters.

This is the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, held every year in September in countries all around the world. The volunteers that day are joining hands-on environmental stewards all around the world in the International Coastal Cleanup, not only sweeping the coasts of junk, but compiling a database of what is found. Over time, the program, sponsored by the Ocean Conservancy, provides snapshots and trendlines to help assess progress in keeping “mother ocean,” in Jimmy Buffett’s phrase, clean and healthy.

All over Collier County, approximately 2,000 volunteers fanned out from Tigertail Beach County Park to Wiggins Pass, picking up garbage from mangroves, canals and beaches.

At Tigertail, Saturday, 49 of those volunteers scoured Tigertail Beach and surrounding areas. Art Dobberstein patrolled the mangroves at the edge of the lagoon standing up and floating on his paddleboard, as he has for years, and happily reported finding not a single piece of human-generated junk.

Russ and Diane Glover waded the lagoon to the gulf-side beach. Although they live in Naples, they are Friends of Tigertail members, and shared their tips for turning up trash.

“You gotta get off the path, back in the scrub,” said Russ. Afterward, the couple huddled in the shade at beach cleanup HQ and tabulated their findings in a log. Also joining the cleanup effort were 19 students from Marco Island Academy, the island’s charter high school, mostly members of the school’s Key Club.

City Councilor Charlette Roman, a former president of Friends of Tigertail, helped pick up trash, as did Tonia Selmeski, the city’s environmental planner since June, participating in her second quarterly cleanup.

Cleanup coordinator Allie Delventhal reported that, overall, the volume of trash found was down.

“I like to think that people are being more careful, though it may be that there are fewer beachgoers due to red tide fears,” she said. “Fortunately, Tigertail had less effects from red tide” than beaches to the north.

The overall tally of trash collected did include 144 pieces of roofing material, no doubt a souvenir of Hurricane Irma, beating out the perennial champion of cigarette butts, with 91 collected. Food wrappers came in next, with 89 examples, but both were eclipsed by pieces of plastic, a growing concern in the world’s oceans, with 114 examples, along with 28 pieces of Styrofoam, and eight shoes or flipflops.

The Friends of Tigertail, dedicated to “preserving Tigertail beach for today, tomorrow, and the future,” hosts their next beach cleanup on Saturday, December 8. For more information, or to support the organization, call stewardship chair Susan Lagrotta at 394-1470 or go online to www.friendsoftigertail.com.

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