NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. — Thousands of Central Florida residents participated in the International Coastal Cleanup in Flagler, Volusia and Brevard counties.
The event, created by Ocean Conservancy, is the world’s largest volunteer day dedicated to picking up trash across the globe’s coastlines, beaches and waterways. Across Volusia, Flagler and Brevard counties, there were more than 50 cleanup sites.
In Volusia County, close to 1,000 people participated in the event at over 30 locations in cities like Daytona Beach Shores, Ponce Inlet, New Smyrna Beach, Ormond Beach and more. In total, volunteers picked up more than 6,000 pounds of trash and debris.
In New Smyrna Beach, dozens of volunteers picked up trash at Mary McLeod Bethune Beach Park. Julia Wolfe, one of the site leaders for the park, said the event was all about giving back to the ocean.
“I’m very passionate about the ocean and doing everything that we can to keep everything clean so that we don’t leave our traces anywhere on our natural habitats,” Wolfe said. “I think it’s just really great to get out there and pick up all the trash.”
As a sea turtle lighting associate for Volusia County, Wolfe works to keep sea turtles and hatchlings safe during nesting season. For her, the International Coastal Cleanup is a day to help reset and protect the county’s coastline and wildlife. With a degree in coastal biology, she works to protect the environment in any way that she can.
“I just try to find little ways that I can make an impact,” Wolfe said. “I try to get myself out there, get involved in organizations that I support. I think it’s really a great initiative, just getting everyone all hyped up, wanting to keep our beaches clean.”
Abby Proctor was also a site leader. With a degree in marine biology, Proctor works as an assistant in the county’s sea turtle Habitat Conservation Program — collecting data and surveying the beach during nesting season. As Volusia County experiences its largest nesting season to date, Proctor said the trash on the beach can cause obstacles for nesting turtles.
“We want to pick up all of the trash because not only can they ingest those, but when all of our hatchlings are starting to emerge, they might get stuck in some of these bottles or cups or things like that,” Proctor said.
As site leaders, Proctor and Wolfe worked with volunteers to help clean up the beach. They also counted the trash items collected and submitted them into a global database. Last year in Florida, the top five most picked up trash items were cigarette butts, bottle caps, straws, food wrappers and other plastic waste.
“Trash-wise, we’ve seen lots of cigarette butts, lots of shoes, rope, little chunks of plastic, microplastics, bottle caps,” Wolfe said. “So, when you’re out on the beach, make sure you’re doing your best to pick those up and that you’re not leaving anything behind.”
Proctor and Wolfe worked to sort trash and recycle items picked up during the cleanup. Volunteers across the county picked up thousands of pounds of trash — an exciting stat for the site leaders.
“As a resident in Volusia County, an employee in Volusia County, this is a lot to be proud of,” Proctor said.
“It’s super exciting,” Wolfe said. “It’s great to see how much we’re able to get off the beach.”
Wolfe hopes the International Coastal Cleanup event will continue to grow and encourages anyone interested to participate next year. In the meantime, Wolfe hopes people will work to keep the county’s beaches trash-free.
Reagan Ryan is a 2023 — 2024 Report for America Corps Member, covering the environment and climate across Central Florida for Spectrum News 13. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.