Saturday was a perfect day for being on the water – bright, clear and calm – and Salt River Marina was clogged with kayakers, not packing picnic baskets but hauling trash retrieved from the delicate mangrove forest in the bay.
Howard Forbes, one of the program coordinators from the University of the Virgin Islands, said this was the first year for the event on St. Croix, but St. Thomas volunteers have cleaned up the mangroves for the last two years.
Forbes said about 40 volunteers were expected but 100 signed up. An hour before the cleanup was to wrap up, more vehicles with men, women and children pulled up, pulled on their gloves and waited for their turn in the kayak. Some people brought their own vessels, and Bush Tribe Eco Adventures and the Buccaneer Hotel donated 15 boats for the day.
Volunteers followed a specific procedure for tracking the debris they collected. They logged in the specific item and then marked where it was found on a map. All the trash was carried to the tent where staff from UVI and the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources weighed it and tossed it into a dumpster.
Forbes said the cleanup on St. Thomas has collected 5,000 pounds of trash from mangroves near the Bovoni landfill – lots of plastic bottles, glass and tires – even a piece of roof.
“If people can fit it into their car, they can put it on the beach,” he said.
An important aspect of the cleanup is to collect data for the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Forbes said. Other mangrove communities, such as Hawaii, are serving as models for the Virgin Islands, showing how to preserve statistics and manage the future. Workshops are held every two years to update Hawaii’s plan.
Hawaii’s debris plan was formed in 2010. Its purpose is to reduce marine debris through prevention, support debris removal, increase the capacity to deal with abandoned and derelict vessels and conduct research.
The information will also be presented to the V.I. Legislature, Forbes said.
“A marine debris action plan is a high priority for NOAA,” he said.
The mangrove cleanup has been funded with grants for two years by the National Park Service and Planning and Natural Resources. St. John will host a trash removal on Mar. 28 and St. Thomas will have an event on Apr. 25. Before next year’s cleanups, Forbes said there will be public stakeholder meetings.
The people who registered to volunteer for the Salt River cleanup included members of the U.S. Coast Guard, students and people interested in the cause.
Shaniah Clifford and Bianca Guadalupe are freshmen at UVI and signed up for the project for extra credit. Their collection of trash included rope, aluminum cans, a piece of chain and a deck chair. They enjoyed the day and even took a swim.
“We had to avoid touching the mangroves and messing with branches,” Clifford said.
Emmanuella Perez-Cassius retrieved a tire along with a paint bucket filled with other trash. The tire didn’t fit in the kayak, so she drug it in the water while someone else paddled. Perez-Cassius brought 14 members of the Caribbean Center for Boys and Girls (formerly the Boys and Girls Club) and Junior Scientists of the Seas.
“The tire is part of my commitment to get this check list completed,” she said, laughing.
The debris cleanup was a family affair for Kynoch Reale-Munroe, Bernard Castillo, their son Kaiden, and Colleen Munroe, Kaiden’s grandmother, who is visiting from the mainland. They recovered 13 pounds of debris and Munroe and the young Castillo sat on the ground and sorted it down to the smallest pieces of glass.
“We went for the fun and believe in preserving the environment,” Munroe said.