Dawn patrol at Tigertail: Volunteers scour the beach at Bay Days cleanup

Lance Sheare

The Friends of Tigertail group has been cleaning their beach for 22 years – and that’s a lot of cigarette butts.

The volunteers were out again on Saturday morning, for the annual Bay Days cleanup, with many of the same “usual suspect” volunteers returning to pick up trash from the larger, ever-changing group of people who decide it’s okay to leave their garbage behind.

Related: Bay Days is back again; volunteers to spend Saturday cleaning Tigertail Beach

A large number of cigarette smokers can’t seem to comprehend that the filter ends, once smoked, really are trash, and cigarette butts are the perennial winner in terms of numbers among the items collected during beach cleanups. But they are not the worst to deal with.

“The things that get me the most are the dirty diapers. That’s a little rude,” said cleanup veteran Jim von Rinteln. On the brighter side, he said he has found valuables. “I found a wallet one time – it’s nice to be able to return something like that to the owner.” He also participates in MICA’s cleanups at Residents Beach, he said.

Bill Camm of Marco Island was one of the first out on the beach, and therefore had his pick of the best trash. He filled up one bag in 20 minutes, came back to the HQ set up by the concession stand, dropped off his finds and went back to fill another.

Related: #SWFLstrong — 4,510 pounds of trash: Woman devotes a decade to cleaning up Tigertail Beach

“The beaches are beautiful – they’re the reason we came here to Marco Island,” said Camm. “Anything we can do to help keep it nice.”

Across the lagoon, one man slowly made his way along the shoreline on a stand-up paddleboard, pausing to scoop up flotsam and jetsam and add it to the bag on his board. Barbara Scheerer, another longtime volunteer, noted that for the first time, the trash pickers were given separate bags for recyclable items.

“I’m going over to where the fishermen hang out,” she said. “There’ll be beer cans and bottles, fishing lines, old lures. I’m surprised that people fishing would do that, but it’s always there.”

Like many beach cleaning veterans, Katie O’Hara of the Marco Island Chamber of Commerce came with her own pail, grabber and gloves. Friends of Tigertail board member Sheila Hicks let others have the fun of hanging out with the herons and gulls along the lagoon, and took for herself the unglamorous job of scouring the parking lot for trash.

Members of the younger generation, who have been raised from birth to abhor litter, and will likely be better stewards of the planet than their elders, also helped out with the effort. Seven Girl Scouts from Troop 324 volunteered, said cleanup coordinator Susan LaGrotta, as well as some children brought by Deann Gardiner and Crystal Johnson.

The cleanup sponsored by the Friends of Tigertail was part of Bay Days, a countywide coastal cleanup effort run by Keep Collier Beautiful, who supplied garbage bags, plastic gloves and bottled water for the volunteers, as well as t-shirts. In all, said Keep Collier Beautiful executive director Jim Zimmerman, 1,500 volunteers worked to scour the shores at 20 different sites throughout the county.

“We went from Barefoot Beach in the north, to Chokoloskee in the south, which was cleaned up by the county Code Enforcement people,” said Zimmerman. “We’ve been doing Bay Days since 1996.”

Bay Days is part of a nationwide effort known as the Great American Cleanup, sponsored by Keep America Beautiful. The International Coastal Cleanup in September, when all trash found is tabulated and the data entered in a worldwide databank, is an even bigger cleanup in Collier County, and he expects approximately 2,000 volunteers for that effort, said Zimmerman.

Susan Cone of Up a Creek Kayaks coordinated the efforts on Isles of Capri, and Donna Young spearheaded the effort at Rookery Bay. Additional sites included Clam Pass, Delnor-Wiggins park, the Golden Gate canals, Lake Trafford in Immokalee, the Naples Pier, and two crews along the Cocohatchee Canal.

The next Tigertail cleanup is scheduled for Saturday, July 8, and the International Coastal Cleanup will take place on Sept. 16. To learn more, volunteer, or make a contribution to the Friends of Tigertail, go to the organization’s website, call Susan LaGrotta at 394-1470, or go online to friendsoftigertail.com.

More: Shrinking Shores

Deann Gardiner and Crystal Johnson showed up with some juvenile helpers. The Friends of Tigertail organized a beach cleanup at Tigertail Beach on Saturday morning as part of Bay Days, a countywide effort which itself is part of a larger national coastal cleanup day.