Volunteers scour South Beach for evening cleanup

Lance Shearer

It could have been a very different cleanup. Over 40 volunteers scoured South Beach on Tuesday just before sunset, picking up cigarette butts, stray sandals, bottles and food containers. But a number of people expressed gratitude that they were able to be out on the beach at all.

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Many had seen the scenes of devastation just beginning to filter in from the Bahamas, where Hurricane Dorian pummeled the Abacos and Grand Bahama Island for days with 185 mph winds and massive flooding. There, the beaches were filled with boats thrown onto land, pieces of demolished homes, and even the bodies of those caught up in the storm’s fury – and cleaning up the beach was far from anyone’s mind, as the residents struggled to cope with life in the aftermath of a Category 5 hurricane that leveled entire communities.

“Who would’ve thought, after the models showed it coming right at us, that we’d be missed entirely?” asked Cheryl Rowe, walking down the beach with her husband Jack and searching for debris to fill their buckets. “We’re very lucky.”

As a reminder of its power, Dorian whipped up a brisk northwesterly breeze along the beach, that roiled the usually placid Gulf of Mexico into a cauldron of surf offshore. A few surfers and intrepid bodysurfers ventured out to challenge the waves, but most enjoyed watching the spectacle from the beach, and taking advantage of the natural air conditioning.

Coordinating the volunteers’ efforts, Ruth McCann and Katie O’Hara hung out at the western, beachfront end of the South Beach access path, handing out grabbers, pails and T-shirts, and collecting everyone’s finds.

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“Normally, I lay it all out and sort it, but it’s too windy to sort today,” said O’Hara. After the cleanup, she collects all the grabbers and pails handed out, takes them home, rinses and dries them in preparation for the next time.

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As member and past chair of the City of Marco Island’s Beach and Coastal Resources Advisory Committee, McCann represents the organization putting on the beach cleanup, and is also executive director of MICA, the Marco Island Civic Association, which will be the committee’s partner for their next cleanup on October 12 at 8 a.m. MICA is a member of the Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce, which also works on the cleanups, and sponsored their June effort. CJ’s on the Bay sponsored the August cleanup, and additional beach cleanings this year are sponsored by Vacasa Vacation Homes, the Marco Island Sail & Power Squadron, the Marco Island Area Association of Realtors, the Marco Women’s Club, and the JW Marriott. Although the Marriott did not sponsor Tuesday’s cleanup, they did provide 10 volunteers, and all the participants were invited to Quinn’s for refreshments afterward.

For refreshments during the cleanup, Ray and Marie Lynn McChesney performed their customary task of driving around in the four-wheel MICA “Gator,” taking people’s findings and passing out cool cups of water. Ray is a Beach Committee member.

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Some of the more unusual items found included pieces of a PVC screen enclosure, a Beach Barbie doll, and a set of dentures, which probably have a story to tell if they could talk without being in their owner’s mouth.

If you can’t wait for the October 12 cleanup, you can participate in the Friends of Tigertail annual International Coastal Cleanup on Saturday, Sept. 21, when local beach stewards join with volunteers all over the world to collect and tabulate a day’s worth of refuse from the globe’s shorelines.