Environmental Enthusiasts Clean Up Local Beaches

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What better way to spend a picture perfect weekend in the Panhandle than giving back to Mother Nature. That's exactly what environmental enthusiast Jessica McKenzie had on her to-do list.

Using grant money, she and fellow volunteers from the University of Florida and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration dedicated their Saturday and Sunday to picking up trash in Franklin and Gulf Counties.

"This was part of a Panhandle-wide project. We were cleaning five beaches throughout the Panhandle. We had one on St. George Island yesterday, and then today we cleaned six miles of St. Joseph Peninsula," said McKenzie.

And what a success. They picked up everything from rope to, believe it or not, a piece of an airplane's wing. Over the two day period, the volunteers said they managed to bag 70 pounds of garbage.

"We actually picked up less than we expected, and I think that's probably a combination of factors," McKenzie told NewsChannel 7.

Beach clean-ups are common in most coastal communities. What made this one unique was what happened to the trash after it was picked up. Before heading to the landfill, the volunteers try to determine how the trash got there to begin with.

"Find out what type of debris we're getting on the beach, man-made debris, and this way they can catalog it," volunteer John Ehrman said.

"So if we could figure out where it's coming from then maybe we can help put a stop to it getting out there in the first place," added McKenzie.

The clean up effort was a dual approach to eliminate trash for good and keep the environment clean along with the animals safe that call it home.

"For any nesting bird or nesting turtle, something like that left on the beach as trash it can hurt them when they're trying to come up to nest or it can make them not nest," said organizer Caitlin Hackett.

16 volunteers showed up Sunday making a total of 27 people over the weekend. If you'd like to learn about future beach clean ups, organizer Jessica McKenzie's email is jpturtlepatrol@gmail.com.