Leading the way in the fight against pollution, The Litter Gitter project has helped remove thousands of pounds of waste from Northeast Florida waterways. Now, with a new vessel, The Litter Gitter II, oversight from the Matanzas Riverkeeper and leadership from Captain Adam Morley, the initiative is set to open the eyes of even more members of the local community.
The story of The Litter Gitter began in 2015. As Morley was captaining St. Augustine eco-tours, he became unsettled by the amount of visible trash in the water. In response, he took to social media to ask if anyone was interested in volunteering to clean the Matanzas River. He had a few people take him up on his offer, and in less than two hours, the group completely filled his tour boat with trash.
“It was clear to me then that the community needed a boat specifically for collecting trash,” Morley explained. “We pull a lot of big, heavy, muddy trash out of the water, and we liked to keep our company boats nice for the tours. It was just easier to go a different direction.”
Thus The Litter Gitter was born and has been cleaning waterways from New Smyrna Beach up to Fernandina Beach ever since. Today, Morley even uses Google Earth to help him find places that trash would likely accumulate. This has led to the discovery of displaced kayaks and canoes from hurricanes past, messages in bottles and even a used Navy tow target.
Upon realizing the strong community interest and environmental need for waterway cleanups, Morley began a crowdfunding campaign to enable him to purchase the original Litter Gitter craft. For its first two years in use, that small pontoon boat was registered in his name as a private vessel—its sole purpose was to be a cleanup craft along regional rivers, creeks and estuaries.
Later, Morley determined that transferring ownership of The Litter Gitter to a nonprofit was the best direction for the initiative to take. He donated the vessel to North Florida Coastal Caretakers, and the cleanup trips quickly became the organization’s most successful program. (Morley credits Jessica Gott, among the initial round of volunteers and founder of North Florida Coastal Caretakers, with much of The Litter Gitter’s success.)
Despite this success, the program’s vessel was sorely in need of upgrades.
“We determined that the original Litter Gitter had served its purpose and was no longer meeting the demand for our volunteers who were wanting to go out and do cleanups,” Morley shared. “We started crowdfunding the second purchase, and with a generous contribution from The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida, we were able to buy a new model.”
Then, in the beginning of May, North Florida Coastal Caretakers and the Matanzas Riverkeeper merged. The latter absorbed all the former’s assets, including the new, upgraded The Litter Gitter II, a 24-foot Carolina Skiff with a brand-new Yamaha outboard motor.
“That’s where we are now. The Litter Gitter is now a program of the Matanzas Riverkeeper that continues to conduct waterway cleanups,” Morley said. “The new vessel is able to hold a lot more weight and therefore carry a lot more trash.”
Having ample space aboard the boat has become increasingly important as more and more people learn of The Litter Gitter’s efforts and want to help. Morley recalls that in the beginning, only three or four people requested to participate a couple of times a month. Now he can’t keep up with the demand. Instead, he has a wait-list of sorts to organize all the folks interested in spending two hours cruising inland water, extracting all manner of other people’s discards.
Morley’s passion grew as he appreciated the difference the program was making in the community. He sees the removal of trash as only a small part of the nonprofit’s mission.
“The impact of The Litter Gitter isn’t necessarily the amount of trash that we pull out of the water, but in the number of people we take out there to get engaged in the issue,” Morley explained. “They start to see and understand how big an issue waterway litter is, and we believe that’s where the change starts.”
He added that there’s not a lot of prep work involved before a cleanup, but he makes sure to include a variety of nets, boat hooks and a lot of different tools to pull the trash aboard. He also packs the vessel with boots and waders, in case volunteers need to step out of the boat into the water to grab hard-to-reach trash.
“I call it an active eco-tour, where we go out on the river and see what’s going on, talk about the impacts of trash on our waterways, but we’re also giving our volunteers something to do while they’re out there.”
Unlike other organized cleanup organizers, Morley doesn’t release a set schedule of dates. Instead, he relies on individuals, groups and other organizations to reach out to him with their interest. Then, he works with the prospective volunteers to set up a time and date that works best for everyone. With an ever-increasing number of volunteers, Morley says he envisions a fleet of Litter Gitters eventually, or at least a widely adopted version of the concept.
“If people want to join us for a Litter Gitter trip, the best way is to contact us [via facebook.com/TheLitterGitter]. If you have a group of four to eight people, we’ll set up a trip free of charge,” Morley advised. “That’s our mission, to take as many people out there and get them engaged.”
Morley added that on each trip, he sees people come out on the boat who think they fully understand the problem. Then, when they get back, he says they look shocked, staring at the pile of trash they’ve just collected.
“It’s a life-changing event for a lot of people when they see just how much trash is floating around in our local waters,” Morley said. “It’s dirty work.”