When it comes to thinking globally but acting locally, picking up trash from the beach is as local as it gets.

Collier County Waterkeeper, the recently formed local chapter of the international Waterkeeper Alliance, assembled south of the Naples Pier just after noon, doing their best to make a difference. With fewer than a dozen Waterkeeper volunteers taking up gloves and plastic garbage bags, their numbers were dwarfed by the thousands of sun worshippers who thronged the beach on the summerlike day. But after even more beachgoers showed up the night before to watch the New Year's Eve fireworks display, there was plenty of trash to pick up.

"Altogether, we filled about 20 big garbage bags," said Bill D'Antuono, one of the cleanup's organizers. "We also found things like broken lawn chairs that didn't fit into the bags. There were about 20 of those Chinese lanterns that people were launching into the sky during the fireworks." Prevailing winds pushed them back over the land, and some of the flame-lit and flame-lifted contraptions failed to launch.

The group collected hundreds of beer cans, and more than a few bottles, plus the cardboard containers they came in. Back in the sea grape bushes behind the beach, "there's stuff that's been in there for years," old straw mats, flip flops, and coolers — "things that could be reused."

Some of the items were more unsavory.

"You'd be amazed at what people leave behind. There were dirty diapers, and other things we won't mention," said Jason Brick, one of the volunteers.

Evelyn Birdsall of north Naples read about the cleanup in the newspaper online, she said, and came out to start the New Year off on positive footing.

"I thought this would be a good thing to do for New Year's Day," she said.

Everywhere you looked, people carpeted the beach near the pier. There were so many kids digging in the sand, bronzed volleyball players, tourists taking selfies, and adults sleeping off the night before, that finding the detritus between the bodies could be difficult.

Of course, the first and perhaps most difficult challenge around the pier was finding a place to park. The volunteers reported they had good reactions from beachgoers.

"A lot of people thanked us. Some thought we'd gotten DUIs, and this was our community service," said Waterkeeper Collier Chapter founder Harrison Langley.

"The weirdest thing that was said was someone proposed to my girlfriend Morgan because she was picking up trash," said D'Antuono. She did not accept, he reported.

After doing what they could around the Naples Pier, the group headed up to Lowdermilk Park and did their best to scour the beach there. The volunteers also found some garbage that had already been bagged, but not removed from the beach, which led them to wonder if other groups had also been active in beach cleanups.

A number of organizations do hold regular beach cleanups, including Keep Collier Beautiful, the Friends of Rookery Bay, government-sponsored groups, and the Ocean Conservancy. With all the groups conducting beach cleaning efforts, Langley was asked, why start another one?

"Why? It's still not clean," said Langley. "Waterkeeper is part of a national, and international, group, and we do grassroots advocacy. We want to give a local voice to conservation efforts."

"This is what we have, and it's beautiful. Why trash it?" said D'Antuono.

Nationally, Waterkeeper uses the provisions of the federal Clean Water Act, including water quality standards and citizen suit initiatives, to hold government and industry accountable to reach their goal of "swimmable, drinkable and fishable water." The local chapter has petitioned the City of Naples to develop a plan to reuse or treat stormwater runoff before dumping it into the Gulf of Mexico. They are working to organize a "lionfish derby" on May 29, to remove those toxic exotic fish from local reefs, and plan more beach cleanups in the future.

To learn more or support the work of the Waterkeeper Alliance, a nonprofit organization, go online to www.colliercountywaterkeeper.org.

Photo Credit: Dorothy Edwards

Article taken from NaplesDailyNews.com