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Groups organize to clean up litter on spoil islands


Several local volunteers have begun organizing groups to help clean up the spoil islands in the Indian River Lagoon in response to a Vero Beach 32963 story and photographs calling attention to a litter problem.

The volunteers range from a retired teacher/coach to a college freshman, and the groups include the Vero Beach Yacht Club, which already has contacted the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Spoil Island Project to inquire about adopting an island.

A group of yacht club members plans to meet soon to discuss ways to contribute to the clean-up, and the club also has invited a representative from the Friends of the Spoil Islands to speak to its membership.

"We saw the article in the newspaper and several of our members have brought up the possibility of helping," club spokesperson Michele Hollingworth said. "We're a small club, so we might need to join with some other group. We're exploring our options.

"But the spoil islands are a natural treasure," she added, "and we're very concerned."

Meanwhile, local kayaker Paul Kelly, who referred to the April 14 story as a "call to action" and an example of the "power of the press," has been recruiting groups for an "Island Clean-up Party" – something that he said could turn into a weekend event.

No date has been set, but Kelly, a retired teacher and coach, said he has spoken to Vero Beach High School athletic director/football coach Lenny Jankowski, Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter president Joe Moore and church youth groups.

He said the front-page story and photographs have "gotten people's attention" and they want to help.

"I'm happy to report that many people will be taking positive action on this much needed project," Kelly said, adding, "We cannot help but be excited about the response."

Apparently, some concerned residents already have begun tackling the problem.

Kelly said he paddled out to one of the islands last week and was "thrilled to report that 98 percent of the trash" had been removed. He said he checked with the county's Public Works Department and was told it was not done by county workers.

He said he saw a pontoon boat at the island the day before.

"This was obviously a private group, and I can only guess your article and pictures provided the motivation," Kelly said. "When we went out the next day, there was still some trash there, but it was a lot cleaner.

"So let's keep it up."

That's exactly what Dalton Connelly, a Vero Beach High School graduate and University of Florida freshman, has done.

In the midst of studying for final exams in Gainesville, Connelly said he came across the story on the littered spoil islands and was "disgusted" by what he read – so much so that he immediately decided to rally his buddies to the clean-up cause.

Connelly, an island resident, and several friends, including some members of this past season's Vero Beach football team, went to a couple of the islands where young people tend to gather and removed the trash left behind last week.

"As a sophomore and junior in high school, I spent a lot of time on those islands, camping with friends and family," Connelly wrote in an email. "I was always known as the guy who would never shut up about cleaning up the trash before we left.

As for taking preventative measures, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has said it will step up patrols of the islands to try to catch the litterbugs in the act.