Though the St. Petersburg College Underwater Research Society, the College’s club for SCUBA diving enthusiasts, spends most of their time together under the water, they recently met on shore for a day of beach cleanup.
On Saturday, August 4, club members, including Club Advisor Dr. Heyward Mathews, Club President Matt Bellant, along with Danielle Hartberger, Brooke Leonelli, Angel Warf, and Laura and Mike Smith, met at Indian Shores Beach. From 9 a.m. to noon, the crew, with five-gallon buckets in hand, walked about a mile stretch of the beach, gathering up approximately 40 gallons of trash – roughly 80 pounds – from the water line all the way into the sand dunes. Some items they removed from the beach were single running shoes, orphaned flip-flops, styrofoam cups, dead fish and birds, lots of cigarette filters, remains from fireworks, and lots and lots of plastic in the form of straws, cup lids, and children’s sand toys.
The pollution of micro-plastics, especially straws, has been a hot-button item in the news recently. Mathews said that it is a terrible issue for marine life.
“The main problem with these plastics in the water is that many marine animals mistake plastics for food,” he explained. “They ingest them and die from clogged intestines.”
One of the pleasant aspects of the day were the number of beachgoers who thanked the group for their service. Some of the children’s sand toys were recycled by giving them to children further down the beach. One team member was lucky enough to find a beautifully bleached out and intact sand dollar. But the most unexpected treat of the day was arriving at a sea turtle hatching in time to watch the action.
Mathews said the group, along with SPC marine biology students, are not finished yet.
“Our marine biology students have done many beach clean up projects, both on the beaches and under water, with our scuba students on the artificial reefs and under
Pier 60 in Clearwater,” Mathews said. “We are now working under a Clearwater Marine Aquarium grant to study the impact of the current red tide bloom on two reefs we have been working for the last four years.”