Volunteers spruce up St. Petersburg’s waterfront

BLUE Ocean Film Festival Volunteers spruce up St. Petersburg’s waterfront

Posted: 11/1/2014 By Josh Boatwright
BY JOSH BOATWRIGHT Tribune staff
Published: November 1, 2014

ST. PETERSBURG — At first glance, Spa Beach didn’t look like it needed a thorough cleaning Saturday.

Picking around for a few minutes in the sand and along The Pier approach uncovered an entirely different scene.

Discarded pants in the grass, a banged-up boat pontoon that washed ashore from the bay, empty bottles, chunks of wood and dozens upon dozens of cigarette “bottoms,” as 5-year-old Claire James dubbed them.

Claire and her brother Court, 7, joined their grandparents, Carol and Fred Whaley, and a small platoon of other volunteers to spruce up the city’s waterfront from North Shore Park to Demens Landing on Saturday as part of a weekend-long cleanup ahead of next week’s BLUE Ocean Film Festival & Conservation Summit.

For Saturday and Sunday, more than 450 people from 27 city civic groups signed up to collect every soda can or plastic bag that has accumulated along local shores and waterways from Weedon Island to Shell Key.

They’ll be out on foot or in canoes and kayaks, going deep into mangroves of Clam Bayou, where few venture to clear out the litter that floats in from the Gulf of Mexico.

As Hollywood stars and esteemed marine scientists begin rolling into town Monday for a celebrated ocean-themed film festival, local residents want to make sure they’ve “cleaned off the welcome mat,” said Lucida and Howard Johnston, who head up the marine education nonprofit Chart 411.

Although speakers and documentary-makers at the festival will address the big issues facing the world’s oceans, such as climate change, waste disposal and declining fisheries, this weekend’s events are focused on taking smaller steps toward protecting the water, Howard Johnston said.

“It’s trying to get people engaged in what they can do because some of the problems look so overwhelming,” said Johnston, chairman of Chart 411.

For the Whaleys, lifelong residents of St. Petersburg, the cleanup is a teachable moment for their grandchildren.

“We always try to take a bag when we go to the beach,” said Carol Whaley. “We’re trying to be careful to make the point about litter since they’re young.”

Her granddaughter Claire has become adept at finding cigarette butts and other minute rubbish during their outings.

“She makes me pick up everything now when we go to the beach,” Whaley said.

Saturday’s effort was organized by the Downtown Waterfront Parks Foundation, a group of city residents and businesspeople looking to raise money to keep the downtown shoreline beautiful.

The group’s leader, landscape architect Phil Graham, hopes to gather funds to take on private beautification projects focused on the waterfront that go beyond what the city’s lean maintenance budgets will allow.

“These parks need more maintenance, more attention than the rest of the parks in the city by virtue of their importance to the whole community,” Graham said.

“We’re in a competitive market for real estate, for development, for businesses, and this really needs to sing here. I mean it really needs to be special.”

jboatwright@tampatrib.com

(727) 215-1277