Princess Stephan Obriot and her then-5-year-old daughter started participating in coastal cleanups in the Tampa Bay area in 1999.
Obriot, of Holiday, got involved while she was working at a local dive shop that was an affiliate of Project Aware, a co-sponsor of the International Coastal Clean Up. She decided to rally a team of volunteers to go out and clean up wetlands in Pasco County, but she and her daughter, Ayla Stephan, were the only ones to show up.
Nonetheless, the pair picked up six large bags of trash that day. And they haven't stopped since.
On Saturday, Obriot and her Pasco-based nonprofit organization, Make Mine Bluegreen, will concentrate on coastal Hernando County, including several parks near the Weeki Wachee River and wetlands surrounding Bayport. It's part of the group's observance of Earth Day, which was Thursday.
Make Mine Bluegreen — blue for the water, green for the environment — has never been intimidated by the amount of litter in a particular area, Obriot says. In one of its earlier projects, the organization pulled 400 illegally dumped phone books from Old Post Road Canal in Port Richey; in another, volunteers cleaned up Three Rooker Island in northern Pinellas County, with seven volunteers pulling 1,100 pounds of trash, tires, two crab pots, coolers and a large section of boat deck from the shore.
Make Mine Bluegreen has been to Anclote Key three times in 2007 and 2008, collecting 10,745 pounds of litter.
In those visits, volunteers found a grill, boogie boards, plywood, 2,000 feet of rope, a cargo net, tires, a boat hull, an underwater camera, a sand-blasting tank, an inflatable raft, and bags upon bags of trash.
"It's far more dangerous than people realize," Obriot said of the trash. "It's a horrible cycle."
Officially founded in 2008, Make Mine Bluegreen has since started a group for teens called Teens Against Coastal Trash to raise awareness about beach litter.
In March 2009, the group helped a senior from J.W. Mitchell High School organize her own cleanup to restore wetlands in Pasco County. Thirty-nine volunteers filled six large trash bins and hauled away 34 tons of trash from Pasco Palms in Holiday.
Make Mine Bluegreen is happy to finally make its way up to Hernando County this week.
"Hernando County had been struggling for having any kind of volunteer organizations come in for coastal cleanup," Obriot said.
She said some of her regular volunteers live there and are helping to organize the event.
Two teams are meeting at Linda Pedersen Park and Bayport Park to target some of the county's most frequented coastal areas. The team at Linda Pederson Park will also cover Rogers Park, Jenkins Creek Park, surrounding wetlands and the Weeki Wachee River. The Bayport team will target wetlands.
"We're hitting four parks and marshland," Obriot said. "We have kayaks donated by Weeki Wachee Kayak going out."
Sherry Metcalf is one of the Bayport team leaders and has been volunteering with Make Mine Bluegreen for three years. She was introduced to the organization through her daughter, who happened to meet Obriot while waiting for a boat at the Tarpon Springs Sponge Docks.
Ever since that chance encounter, Metcalf and her daughter have been helping Make Mine Bluegreen make a difference.
"I just care about what our world looks like," Metcalf said. "Sometimes you have to dig through swampy water, but it's worth it, and it does make a difference."
Make Mine Bluegreen doesn't stop at cleaning up the shoreline. It also aims to educate communities about the dangers of marine litter and gives tips on how to recycle on its website. One upcoming project has a youth team shooting a short film to spread the message about marine litter.
The Hernando cleanup will start at 9 a.m. Saturday at Linda Pedersen Park under the blue-roof pavilion and will last four hours. Volunteers are encouraged to wear grubby shoes (no flip-flops) and a blue shirt.
Due to the number of volunteers and a shortage in funding, Obriot asks that each volunteer bring a box of trash bags and a six-pack of water.