Three years ago, the Weeks Bay Foundation saw a need for a different kind of trash clean up. Many events pick up debris along the beaches and on roadways, but there are not many efforts to remove trash along the shorelines where it cannot be reached by foot. This was the start of the “February Floating Cleanup.” The floating cleanup is done entirely from canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards, with motorboats assisting as floating “dumpsters” for heavy materials.
Partnering with our friends from the Thompson Engineering Eco-Team and community volunteers, we have consistently picked up over 1,000 pounds of trash and recycling from the banks of Weeks Bay and Fish River. For our 2019 cleanup, we added a great new partner, JubileeScape. Lead by Robin Luce, JubileeScape brought 10 volunteers and a trailer to haul the collected trash to the dump.
This year, we moved the cleanup to the mouth of Weeks Bay to focus on the area around Pelican Point/Big Mouth. This part of the bay sees a lot of traffic, with the boat launch, fishing pier, and access to Mobile Bay. That means it also sees a lot of trash! Some of this trash blows out of boats and truck beds. Some of it floats off docks and piers during high tide or storms. And, unfortunately, some of it is dumped by people who do not understand the damage it does.
Recent research is showing that the majority of trash in our waters is plastic. According to the NOAA Marine Debris program, “Most commonly used plastics do not go away in the ocean, and instead break down into smaller and smaller pieces.” These small pieces are called “micro-plastics,” and they are absorbed into the food chain through algae and filter feeders, such as oysters. Larger creatures eat these smaller ones and the plastics persist in each animal. Cleanup efforts that remove trash from the shorelines keep that waste from becoming part of our food chain. Some of the participants focused on the Foundation’s Crescent Point property, which is home to Clapper Rails, Soras, and other shore birds. The property also contains protected salt marsh sloughs, which are critical nursery habitat for shellfish and fish species. This year the cleanup had 35 volunteers who brought in nearly 1,400 pounds of trash from the edges of Weeks Bay. After removing the trash from the water, the team also sorted out plastic bottles and aluminum cans to be recycled at local facilities.