Student Service Project Report Summer 2016
Albert Einstein once said, “the environment is everything that isn’t me.” My entire life has been spent on a beach. The Gulf of Mexico’s coastline is a pristine diverse stretch of beach that runs through five states. Unfortunately, it is not immune to our detrimental environmental impact. Although the beach is not beautiful in every mile of it, the coast line plays an important role in our everyday lives. The towns that are concentrated along the Gulf Coast rely primarily on agriculture and tourism. After two semesters of schooling, I go back to working as a beach attendant on Okaloosa Island for the summer season. Every day I come across waste that had either washed up from the Gulf or was left on the beach purposely as if nature would take of it.
This summer, a few friends and I teamed up with the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA) Marine Debris program as a way to combat the on-going issue of waste along the beach and water ways. We were teamed with other local and traveling volunteers who were working for the same cause. Looking at it now, to me we seemed more like Teddy Roosevelt’s rough riders. Interestingly enough, Teddy Roosevelt was the first president to take action in protecting the environment and be open about his love for nature. On certain occasions we were able to experience working with specialized environmentalist and marine biologist who worked directly with the NOAA. In addition, the NOAA worked collaboratively with the local, state, and federal environmental departments for more support and new methods on ways to handle the removal of the numerous amounts of debris. Our team would spend mornings and afternoons disposing of any material found by foot, UTV, or boat. Along the coastline we would find every item a person could possibly think of. Our group would find trash bags filled with garbage, water bottles, eating utensils, beach equipment, and once we even found an outboard boat motor that had washed up. During the summer, the Destin Harborwalk Village and the Fort Walton Beach pier perform firework shows twice a week. The shows are magnificent and a show of pride for our area and the many people that live and visit. Unfortunately, the shows also show the lack of pride for keeping our waters and shoreline clean. The shoreline becomes riddled with shells, plastic pieces, and wrappers from the show. The amount of firework debris found doubled during the weekend of July 4th. These plastic pieces that float in the water or that wash up can be potentially harmful to humans but more deadly for birds and other coastal animals that may mistake the plastics as pieces of food. I have seen a countless number of times, coastal birds with plastic ties or plastic can holders wrapped around their beaks or feet. It gives me a terrible feeling knowing I can’t help them because they are more afraid that I would put them in more danger. The worst time of the year is when the annual algae bloom plagues the entire gulf coast. Around the month of June until mid-July, what we call “June grass” rids the water and shoreline with dead fish and debris that has been caught in the thick gelatin like algae. This is also the time when storms are more prevalent to form. Storms that travel through the Gulf of Mexico brings debris from hundreds of miles away onto the coastline of the southern states. At times like after a storm, the local administrations hold volunteer events for everyone around the area to dedicate one day of their time to support the pickup of the garbage. It’s a fun time for people to get together to do something for their community while meeting new people. We call it the debris club.
Unfortunately, the problem of dirtying beaches and shores lined with garbage is an ongoing issue that is growing whether you see it or not. Our impact on the environment is worsening and if something is not done about it soon then we will experience serious repercussions. Not only humans but also the wildlife in and around the water. Although we cannot completely eliminate our “carbon footprint”, we can always make an action in reducing it.
The efforts of our clean-up projects are aimed to reduce the harmful impact we have made on our environment and wildlife. Nobody realizes the effect they have on the environment when they flick a cigarette butt on the ground or throw beer cans into the water until they see the effects themselves. The native American tribes were noted for their care of mother nature until they realized the reward they could obtain from it. Only when the last tree has died, the last river has been poisoned, and the last fish has been caught will we realize that we cannot eat money.