Coastal Cleanup effort removes brunt of the litter

Kendra Cope, president and founder of Coastal Connections, left, and Barbara Schlitt Ford, executive director of the Environmental Learning Center at the joint cleanup of the Riverside Park area on Saturday, May16, in Vero Beach. Participants were asked to wear masks and observe social distancing as they collected trash keeping records which will be added to a national database. [Photo: Brenda Ahearn]

Gloved and masked supporters of Coastal Connections and the Environmental Learning Center gathered on a recent Saturday morning for a Coastal Cleanup at Riverside Park, filling up their buckets with the garbage left behind by careless people. Earlier planned cleanups at Humiston Park and the ELC had been canceled due to the pandemic.

“Instead we decided to join forces during the reopening of everything and come out to start picking up litter at this beautiful spot at Riverside Park,” said Kendra Cope, Coastal Connections founder and president.

“We are excited to be partnering with Coastal Connections. Our missions are very much aligned,” said Barbara Schlitt Ford, ELC executive director. “We’re all about the health of the environment and how that’s connected to human health. Together we’re better.”

Complying with social distancing, people spread in the park and along the waterfront from the Live Like Cole fishing pier to Memorial Island harvest more than 90 pounds of trash – plenty of cigarette butts and cigar tips, plastic bags and bottles, soda cans, straws, food wrappers and even several boat cushions.

On the beaches, Cope said their sea turtle surveyors are picking up about 40 celebratory balloons a day; the week before the cleanup, more than 200 had washed ashore.

“We’ve seen a lot of single-use plastic straws and single-use plastic items pop up because of the current situation,” said Cope. “All the restaurants are using more of those single-use items, and so we are seeing those around our beach and park areas.”

“Other people create the mess, but if someone else doesn’t clean it up, it doesn’t go away,” said Coastal Connections board member Sherri Davis. “It’s important. Every single wildlife creature is affected by plastics, micro-plastics and the trash that’s out here. Cigarette butts are another problem; we have to pick them up because other people throw them down. If we don’t clean it up then all of our wildlife suffers and even our tourism takes a hit.”

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Photos by: Brenda Ahearn
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