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Cleanup offers hope for beaches

David Karlen, a graduate student majoring in biology at USF, first got involved in the Florida Coastal Cleanup in 1992. He has participated at sites on the shores of the Palm River, Melbourne Beach, Cape Canaveral and the Courtney Campbell Causeway. In his years volunteering for the cleanup, Karlen has developed some interesting memories.

Karlen said that the most amazing thing he found during his efforts was a drift bottle, a device that was part of a study on current patterns along the Gulf Stream, which was set out by a scientist from the Cuban Academy of Sciences in 1992.

But of all the sites Karlen helped clean up, Palm River was the worst.

“One year, we pulled out around 40 tires from along the Palm River shoreline,” Karlen said.

Saturday morning, residents of Hillsborough County will have a chance to pick up a variety of items and form their own memories. They’ll be able to give something back to the community, as well. At 8 a.m., the 15th Annual Florida Coastal Cleanup will begin. The event will take place at more than 18 sites around Hillsborough County.

Christine Commerce of Keep Hillsborough County Beautiful coordinated this project and said a variety of people come out to help each year.

“We have both young and old that come to this event, from seven to 70,” Commerce said. “Families and schools and a lot of high school students participate in this for community service credit.”

Tiffany Valentin, social director for the USF Honors College Student Council, said she has registered about 30 honors students for the event. Valentin became aware of the event through a posting on the KHCB Web site and then collected printed material about the event from a KHCB booth at Patio Tuesday. She said she wanted to find a creative way to bring the honors students together outside of a school setting.

“I thought it was time for us to give something back to the community that has already given so much to us,” Valentin said

The honors group is registered for the Sulphur Springs site at Rowlett Park because of its proximity to USF.

“Since the site we registered for is so close to school, we thought it would be easier for students to find their way there,” Valentin said.

Though all of the other site cleanups begin at 8 a.m., volunteers at the Sulphur Springs site are beginning their efforts at 7 a.m. Many of the participants from Valentin’s group are freshmen and on-campus students without cars, so the group is carpooling to the event.

“I think it’s cool that students who don’t even know their way around campus yet are going to be out in the community at 7 a.m. on a Saturday to help clean things up,” Valentin said.

The cleanup takes place every third Saturday in September and is part of the International Coastal Cleanup, which is coordinated by the Ocean Conservancy. It is the sixteenth year for the International Cleanup, which encourages volunteers to pick up and track types of litter found around beaches, rivers and lakes. The information collected is used to promote stricter marine conservation efforts.

According to Commerce, in 2001 4.7 million people from 118 countries were involved in the International Cleanup. In the data collected during last year’s cleanup, volunteers found 125 entangled animals among the debris, 47 percent of which were ensnared in discarded fishing lines.

Karlen said the Courtney Campbell Causeway site “contained mainly plastic and paper trash, food containers, cigarette butts and monofilament fishing line.”

Karlen’s group, Biology Graduate Student Organization, is registered this year along with the United Way group Hands On Tampa. He said that registering for the event is important because KHCB provides equipment, refreshments and free T-shirts based on the number of registered participants. Commerce recommended that participants bring their own sunscreen and bug repellent. She also suggested that those working in mangrove and other wooded areas wear pants. Those who show up the day of the event may want to bring their own gloves, as supplies may run out.

When asked why other residents would like to participate, Karlen responded, “I think other Hillsborough County residents would want to get involved in the Coastal Cleanup because it is a good way to directly help out the Tampa Bay community – with very tangible results. The bay and our coastal beaches are probably the most important component of our quality of life in Hillsborough County.”

Commerce said that while some of the 18 sites have been “maxed-out” with registered participants, more volunteers are needed at Pam Callahan Nature Preserve in Town ‘N Country, Brooker Creek Headwaters in Odessa and Rowlett Park in Sulphur Springs. In addition, she said the Courtney Campbell Causeway is one of the more popular sites for the event, and day-of participants are encouraged to participate at this site, as well as the three listed above.

Contact Holly Herbert at