Never was "one man's trash is another's treasure" more apt than Saturday morning when Canterbury School's Brownie Troop 906 foraged through the mangrove fringes of Clam Bayou Nature Park and removed 42 pounds of garbage. Not even the tiniest bit of plastic or Styrofoam could escape their unabated enthusiasm. Nor, in the innocence of second-graders, did they ponder that the cigarette lighters and plastic cigar filters that dotted the landscape signified that their cleanup area was a pot smokers' hideaway by night. It was better than an Easter egg hunt.
"Wow! This is my lucky day. A whole bottle," one girl squealed as she dove under a bush to snag a plastic castoff.
"I've got a bowl!" Victoria Zamitalo, 7, yelled in triumph.
"Eeeeyew! Who was eating this stuff down here?" sounded a girlish cry deep in another mangrove clump.
Clam Bayou, an arm of Boca Ciega Bay between Gulfport and St. Petersburg, is particularly prone to junk.
Storm drains flush trash and oily runoff from neighboring streets, and people who frequent the surrounding park apparently leave plenty of personal residue.
The city of Gulfport has organized volunteer cleanups for 15 years. More than 100 people took part Saturday, said Bob Williams of the Recreation Department.
Personal care and culinary items dominated their haul.
Combs, straws, chopsticks, Burger King wrappers, an eyewash bottle, a fork, a Bud Light bottle, a lipstick and something that Wendy Clark, one of the Brownie moms, spotted among the mangrove roots.
"You know how you separate your nails when you get a pedicure. That's one of those nail separators."
Al Davis of Gulfport Water Watch, a citizen's advocacy group, praised the volunteers' efforts, but blasted public officials for not preventing further storm water pollution of the bayou.
"This is a toilet that's being flushed," Davis said. "There used to be edible clams and oysters here. Now nobody in their right mind would eat anything out of here."
Brownie Troop 906 was oblivious to any such political contention.
At the registration table, Brownies donned plastic gloves like diminutive surgeons and armed themselves with "grabbers," those 3-foot tools that allow adults to pick up trash without bending over.
Then they headed for the mangroves.
"Brownie people are awesome. They clean up the Earth," 7-year-old Nikoletta Kalfopoulos pronounced to no one in particular.