There was a bustle of activity in and just south of the Oslo Riverfront Conservation Area last Saturday morning, where more than 100 volunteers took on the colossal collaborative effort to clean up the property’s undeveloped coastal hammocks, scrubby flatwoods and estuarine wetlands.
The Coastal Cleanup was sponsored by Indian River County Parks and Recreation, Coastal Connections, Indian River County Recycles and Waste Management, with additional volunteers from Coastal Conservation Association, Environmental Learning Center, the Eugenia Chapter of the Florida Native Plant Society, Keep Indian River Beautiful, Pelican Island Audubon Society, Sunrise Rotary Vero Beach, Vero Beach Power Squadron, Vero Beach High School and Indian River Charter High School.
The cleanup was part of the Indian River County Conservation Lands Program’s objective to “protect, restore and sustain endangered ecosystems and associated rare and endangered species” while providing “passive public recreation, preservation of open space, groundwater quality protection, flood protection, protection of historic and cultural resources, and general preservation of quality of life” in Indian River County.
It followed the recent completion of a massive firebreak (a gap in vegetation that acts as a barrier to slow or stop the progress of bushfires or wildfires) project, funded through a hazard mitigation grant from FEMA. It also allowed better access to areas that needed to be cleaned up at ORCA, explained Beth Powell, Parks & Conservation Resources assistant director.
“We had so much Brazilian pepper and so much material on the ground that it just wasn’t practical to ask volunteers to dive into that area,” noted Powell.
Once the firebreak was completed, the Conservation Lands Program put out a call to action seeking help to remove trash and exotic plants from the area, and the response was overwhelming.
“This is a massive community-wide effort to clean up this one area. What a great way to start off the year. We’re all holding hands together to work together to better our lagoon front property,” said Kendra Cope, Coastal Connections founding director.
Her volunteers were joined by Sunrise Rotary Vero Beach to collect debris along the shoreline, including a large amount of plastic that would otherwise make its way into the lagoon. Cope was heartened by the fact that despite COVID, so many people have continued to participate in the coastal cleanups that they have organized over the past year.
“It’s a great way to get outside and do family-friendly activities with their kids. The response has been quite positive. People still want to get outside and be a part of making our environment healthier and continue to enhance it,” said Cope.
Groups canvassed the wooded area from just behind the South Vero Square shopping center to the shores of the Indian River Lagoon. Items collected ran the gamut from plastic bottles and aluminum cans to fishing lures and even a bathroom sink. Cope expected the cleanup would produce enough trash to fill at least two giant roll-off dumpsters.
Powell said that other recently completed and upcoming projects include the removal of invasive plants, the installation of new boardwalks and crossovers, and the replacement of the observation tower.
Now is the perfect time for nature enthusiasts to hike through the nearly 300-acre ORCA property and take in the native flora and fauna among the walking trails, which include benches, boardwalks, educational signage, an observation platform, and a canoe/kayak launch.
With sea turtle nesting season beginning again soon, Cope shared news of their upcoming campaign, where residents are invited to nominate someone to host hatchlings [signs representing baby turtles] in their yard for several days.
The campaign is “a fun way to bring education to everyone’s doorstep and to get us ready and excited for the nesting season that starts in March,” said Cope.
She also encouraged everyone to sign up for the Inaugural Vero Beach Half Marathon & Sea Turtle 2-Miler, Jan. 24 from Riverside Park, to benefit Running Zone Foundation, with an added Battle of the Bridges 2-Mile Challenge that will benefit Coastal Connections.
There are 27 public conservation areas open for public use in Indian River County.
For more information visit ircgov.com. For information on Coastal Connections events and cleanups visit coastal-connections.org.
Photos by Kaila Jones