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Volunteers will fan out to combat waterway debris

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER, (Week of September 13, 2012)

On Saturday morning, hundreds of Indian River County residents will arm themselves with trash bags and latex gloves and storm the beaches and riverfront by foot – and the Indian River Lagoon by kayak and boat – in the ongoing effort to eradicate trash from the area’s waterways.

The Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup, now in its 27th year, brought 598,000 volunteers together last year to remove 9.1 million pounds of trash from 20,000 miles of shoreline. About 400 local residents did their part to help.

Robin Graves, chair of the City of Sebastian Natural Resources Board, will head out from the Main Street boat ramp Saturday to clean several spoil islands. It’s something her group does four times each year. Indian River County has 43 spoil islands and the Natural Resources Board has formally adopted the northernmost one, called IR1, through the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

“IR 1 is designated as a recreation island. Since it is heavily used, it unfortunately gets a lot of trash. Unfortunately people don’t always pack out what they pack in so we try to make it hospitable for the people,” Graves said. “When we finish with that one, we move onto the next island.”

At their last cleanup in July, the group removed 500 pounds of debris from five spoil islands. “Items picked up were glass bottles, cans, garbage, carpet remnants, a barbecue grill, a PVC foot stool, plastic sheets, an air conditioner grill and assorted scrap metal.

“We love for people to help, the more volunteers the better,” Graves said. “We get a mix of people, some who are retired and some students come to get their volunteer hours.”

“The only issue is that a lot of times we don’t have enough boats. We usually have one to three boats, one of the board members has a boat,” she said.

If boat owners would be willing to transport volunteers, but are not crazy about the idea of hauling trash back in their boats, Graves said that’s not a concern, as the City of Sebastian sends a boat and a staffer around to pick up all the trash bags at the end of the cleanup.

The event is being coordinated locally again this year by Keep Indian River Beautiful (KIRB). Through grants from the Florida Department of Transportation and the Florida Inland Navigation District, plus private sponsorships and assistance from waste haulers, KIRB provides trash bags, protective gloves, T-shirts and other supplies to volunteer groups.