St. Johns/Flagler County, FL – With beach and roadside cleanups, it’s a sure bet what you’ll find while sprucing up the community. Cigarette butts, bottle caps and plastic food wrappers are high on the list of offenders, but those heading out on The Litter Gitter this week were in for a big surprise.

Catching a ride out on Tuesday, members of the Friends of A1A decided to travel the waterways of St. Johns County and take a trip out, led by the organization’s vice president Captain Adam Morley. Leaving from the Genung’s Fish Camp where the Litter Gitter is docked, it was an up close look at the oyster beds along the river and some of the pristine habitat where snowbirds were relaxing along the shoreline.

As seen from The Litter Gitter, birds relax along the banks of the Matanzas River on March 23, 2021.

Not far into the trip heading south, hitting the northern bank of Rattlesnake Island provided a plethora of trash for removal. The oyster shell banks are no match for tides that deposit numerous glass and plastic bottles, aluminum beer bottles and cans, ropes, microplastics, and other trash among the vegetation.

The finds are not uncommon, according to Morley who is a strong advocate for the cleanups and comes prepared with pickers, long-handled grabbers and more while wading in with rubber boots to get the stuff passengers are nervous to go for.

“By coming out here and volunteering it helps keep our communities cleaner of plastic or any other debris that might end up in our watershed,” said Morley. “We are reducing a burden on tax payers by removing trash that would otherwise be picked up by county and municipal workers, or left out here to cause ecological damage. I’ve been passionate about this for well over a decade.”

The Litter Gitter Captain Adam Morley shows the way plastics break down into microplastics, while on a trip out with the Friends of A1A on March 23, 2021.

A surprising amount of fishing line was found wrapped among the mangroves and a few still-spiraled ribbon remains from released balloons could be found intermingled with the plant life as well.

“These trips are really important,” said longtime Litter Gitter volunteer and Friends of A1A board member Lauren Trice. “It really highlights a lot of issues with the single use plastic items. They don’t ever go away.”

From hair bands to beer cans, Friends of A1A volunteer Wilhemina Anderson finds a mix of trash on Rattlesnake Island while on the Litter Gitter trip, March 23, 2021.

The big finds came midway through the trip with a barrel pulled from just beyond the shoreline near Fort Matanzas, and on the return trip the eagle-eyed boat captain spotted a full-size wooden swing resting along the banks, not far from a boat bumper and a discarded five gallon gas can.

“We found a bench and a lot of bottles. That was surprising,” said Flagler Palm Coast High School senior and Friends of A1A volunteer Penelope Anderson. The day’s finds had her concerned about the upcoming busy summer months’ impact on the waterways.

Friends of A1A volunteer Penelope Anderson pulls a bumper from the shoreline while on a Litter Gitter trip, March 23, 2021.

“It’s not that hard to keep it in your boat until you can get where you can throw it away,” she said.

Staffing the St. Augustine Beach location for the International Coastal Cleanup each year, Friends of A1A board member Bob Samuels was excited about his first trip on The Litter Gitter, and surprised by the unusual items pulled from the riverbanks.

“You can see all the good things we found and even something that was not quite litter,” he said, pointing out the nearly new bench he helped haul in. “It’s an addition to all the things we do out along the Scenic A1A Highway.”

Bob Samuels and Captain Adam Morley retrieve a bench from the river bank on March 23, 2021.

Removing about 100 pounds of trash from the waterways on a single trip, Matanzas Riverkeeper Jen Lomberk, said last year The Litter Gitter removed about 10,000 pounds of trash and debris from the local waterways.

“The Litter Gitteris a program of Matanzas Riverkeeper that takes members of our community out on the river to remove trash from our waterways and to learn about the issues surrounding marine debris and litter,” said Lomberk.

“The namesake of the program is the Litter Gitter II, a bright yellow, 24-foot Carolina skiff, specially equipped for removing large volumes of debris. With Captain Adam Morley at the helm, the Litter Gitter program works to ensure that our local waterways stay clean and healthy while giving volunteers an opportunity to get their hands dirty and to do their part,” she said.

The Litter Gitter Captain Adam Morley retrieves a barrel from the vegetation near Fort Matanzas while hosting a trip out for the Friends of A1A on March 23, 2021.

Supported by donations, there is no cost to take a trip aboard The Litter Gitter, but volunteers should come prepared with a few basics: long pants, closed toed shoes, sunscreen and water – preferably in a refillable bottle. For more information, visit www.matanzasriverkeeper.org/litter_gitter

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