By Rita L. Sherwood
My last article, part one, discussed how two locals, one employed by the county, and the other, a local business owner, strive to keep Destin beautiful.
Alex Fogg, Coastal Resource Manager for the Destin and Fort Walton Beach Okaloosa County Tourism Development Council, concentrates more on our local waterways by implementing and overseeing artificial reefs for habitats for our local fish. These reefs are not only used by fishers and divers, but also are habitats for commercial and recreational fish we all enjoy eating.
Bobby Wagner, Owner of Trees on the Coast, runs the “Honor Tree” program which beautifies Destin one tree at a time. He also spearheads the volunteer organization called the Divers Down Pollution Project that removes trash from our local waterways, and participates, plans and promotes a monthly beach trash cleanup too.
Catherine Card, City of Destin Public Information Manager, and the city of Destin, have also done their part by implementing an initiative back in 2017. The City of Destin started the Leave No Trace initiative to promote environmental awareness and pride in our city. Catherine says, “We all love Destin and play a vital role. We must be conscience of our actions and how they can impact not only our environment, but our city too.”
A partnership among the City of Destin, Okaloosa County and the Okaloosa Tourist Development Department, ensures that our beaches are cleaned and beach trash cans are emptied on a regular basis. In 2019, more than 1.3 million pounds of trash were collected from Destin and Okaloosa Island beaches. In 2020, (during COVID-19), about 900,000 pounds of trash were collected from the same beaches.
Catherine states, “Our Leave No Trace initiative goes much more beyond keeping our beaches and waterways clear and clean from trash. We also want to include our parks, front yards, roadways and our entire city.” She hopes that residents, local businesses and visitors alike will join their effort and support the initiative. Businesses can support by displaying the Leave No Trace logo on their digital billboards or by simply posting “Leave No Trace” on their marquee sign. Pick up your free Leave No Trace decal at city hall by emailing Catherine at Ccard@cityofdestin.com. Residents and visitors can also support the initiative by removing any items they bring to Destin with them.
Destin collaborates with many partners on different clean-ups throughout the year and even operates an Adopt-A-Street program which allows local families, businesses and community groups to adopt sections of a street to keep it free of litter and debris. To sign up and get more information, check out www.cityofdestin.com/leavenotrace.
Local resident Lucille Rogers does her part too by simply picking up trash on the beach. Lucille and her husband relocated to Destin from upstate New York, and have a son, a daughter, and two grandchildren living in Destin, and another daughter still residing in New York.
Since retiring two years ago, she’s made it her mission to keep the beach pristine. Her interest in the environment began with her first Earth Day experience in 1972, and for as long as she can remember, she has cared about the quality of our environment and of course, since moving to Destin, our beaches. Although she’s only one person, she can see that she’s making a difference. Most mornings she begins at the June Decker public beach and then goes through the beaches of Henderson State Park. She’s armed with multiple recyclable bags to sort the things she finds as she walks. She says, “I am so happy to live in close proximity to the most beautiful sandy white beaches in the country—if not the world. My hope is that people become more conscience of their surroundings and make a sincere effort to keep our beaches beautiful and clean!”
“In general people love to sit at the beach and enjoy the waves quietly landing on the shore. At the same time, their trappings leave footprints behind. A child’s diaper, juice boxes and straws, paper plates, popsicle sticks and hair ties litter the sand. Water bottles glisten in the sun and sit beside discarded paper towels and wipes that are partially buried. Sometimes remnants of food are left—intentionally or unintentionally—for the birds, but birds do not eat maraschino cherries, orange, lemon or lime peels; flies however, love the rotting fruit, especially watermelon rinds and pineapple husks. Pistachio and peanut casings are just even more litter, as they are of no nutritional value and take time to decompose.
The beach service people use rubber bands to securely close rental umbrellas. The bands break and confuse the birds because they resemble small worms. Somehow, shoes, socks, bathing suits and other apparel are left strewn on the beautiful white sand; and old broken and worn chairs are just discarded and left by the edge of the water along with companion beer cans and cigarette butts. Beautiful celebratory weddings on the beach leave the sand red from silk petals and cluttered by plastic bubble containers. Why not a sprinkling of real rose petals and bird seed? No trace is a concept, not a reality.
Most beachgoers are kind as I pass by and pick up trash. They thank me and bless me. I tell them I’m just doing my part and I remind them to do theirs. People from other states comment about the debris they see. They tell me that they don’t remember the beaches of Destin looking so littered, and I agree. There was a time I might pick up some rubbish that I could hold in my hand; now I carry multiple receptacles. My mantra becomes “recycle, reuse and sustain” as I walk the beach, sorting the plastics and other remains as I traverse.
Our life here in Destin revolves around our beautiful, glistening, white sand beaches. Whether we are locals, fishermen or businesses catering to tourists, our livelihoods must be sustained by keeping our beaches pristine. There is no excuse for the amount of trash I see on a day-to-day basis. After all, Destin’s claim to fame is its beautiful beaches. No one wants to see the beaches full of trash for years to come.”
Well said, Lucille; now what are you doing to keep Destin and our local beaches clean and free of debris? We all know it takes more than one person; it takes a village.