By Brittany Llorente
MARTIN COUNTY - The amount of discarded cigarette butts, soda bottles and general trash litters the waterways and the beaches that attract tourists from all over the county. That's why the International Coastal Clean Up is important.
Last year, more than 2,000 volunteers cleaned up the waterways around the county, by foot, boat, canoe and kayak.
Volunteers clocked 3,200 hours collectively and collected more than 24,000 pounds of trash and marine debris.
On Sept. 15, Keep Martin Beautiful is asking Martin County residents to join the hundreds of thousands of volunteers worldwide to clean up the waterways here at home.
Jessica Layne is the outreach coordinator for Keep Martin Beautiful.
"This event is being spear-headed by the Ocean Conservancy," Ms. Layne said, the organization dedicated to educating and empowering citizens to take action on behalf of the ocean. "People all over are cleaning up waterways. Anywhere there is water, there should be volunteers."
Ms. Layne said that the items that are cleaned up could seem innocent, such as fishing line that gets wrapped around birds, fish and other marine life.
"(One year a cleanup crew) had found a seal that had been stranded and lost in some marine debris," Ms. Layne said. "Sometimes the damage (to the animals) can be fatal."
In 2011, the Ocean Conservancy documented enough food packaging to get takeout for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day for the next 858 years and enough light bulbs to replace every light on the Eiffel Tower.
In Martin County, the items can be plentiful and interesting.
"Every year, tobacco-related litter is the top item collected by local volunteers along with a significant amount of food wrappers and beverage containers," Rhonda Irons, Keep Martin Beautiful president, said in a press release. "We always have volunteers who find unusual items as well - things that would not normally appear in or near the water such as a wooden book shelf, a king-size mattress and even shotgun shells."
This litter not only affects the visual appeal of the beaches, but also the experience.
"Imagine children making sand castles and they come up with cigarette butts," Ms. Layne said. "We need to keep the beaches clean to keep the tourists coming back."
All of the trash collected is tracked on a data card. Keep Martin Beautiful uses the data as a focus point for future cleanup projects and education.
Volunteers can join the cleanup at Stuart Beach from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Sept. 15 or a group of volunteers can pre-register a group for another location at keepmartinbeautiful.org.