ST. PETERSBURG — Residents of the Riviera Bay neighborhood and volunteers from several organizations will load up their boats and take to the water on Saturday, but not to embark on a pleasure cruise.
They will trade flip-flops for work boots, and instead of coolers, beach balls and fishing poles they will pack garbage bags, cleaning supplies and work gloves.
Organizers expect more than 100 volunteers to participate in Operation Healthy Water, a project to clean up the canals between 79th Avenue N and 98th Avenue N over to the San Martin Bridge, and to educate the neighborhood on the importance of keeping the waterways clean.
Participants will meet at the Sunlit Cove boat ramp at 8:30 a.m. and work until 1 p.m.
The Riviera Bay Civic Association has sponsored cleanups for the past 10 years or so, but event organizer Debby Obst said this weekend's promises to be the biggest ever.
In addition to neighborhood residents, volunteers from a Boy Scout troop, Cub Scout pack and Keep Pinellas Beautiful will participate. The city of St. Petersburg will supply a boat and a truck to haul off the trash.
A $2,300 grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District will fund the cleanup.
Obst said she hopes the project will not only remove litter from the canals, but also educate and bring together a community whose lives revolve around the water.
"Our waterways unfortunately suffer from a lot of runoff and disregard for the environment," she said.
Volunteers will fill countless garbage bags with paper, cans, bottles and everyday waste discarded along the canals.
Obst said that a staggering amount of trash accumulates in the waterways. In addition to everyday garbage, volunteers find large items like bicycles and appliances. One year they found a locked safe stolen from a home. The thieves dumped it in a canal when they couldn't pry it open.
Garbage attracts more garbage, and Obst said she hopes the cleanup will deter future dumping.
"When people see a lot of garbage lying around, they assume it's okay to throw their own junk out there."
Intentional littering is not the only source of pollution. Chris Johnson, program coordinator for Keep Pinellas Beautiful, a non-profit organization that promotes litter removal and prevention, said carelessness often results in trash finding its way into waterways.
When boaters fail to secure items, possessions like a child's toy or a driver's license become litter.
"We see weird stuff like that all the time," Johnson said. "We know someone didn't want to throw away their ID card."
Bob Vivian lives in the Riviera Bay neighborhood and serves as assistant scoutmaster for Boy Scout Holy Family Troop 263. At least 10 Scouts will participate and Vivian said that for them, it is all about serving their community and making it a better place to live.
"It's not about the green movement, it's just about helping the environment," he said.
"I'm a fifth generation Floridian. I've watched our waterways and open lands change a lot and not for the better. We need to take care of what we have for future generations."
Michael Maharrey can be reached at (727) 893-8779 or email@example.com.