BY SHANNON BLANKINSHIP, Outreach Director, St. Johns Riverkeeper
There’s nothing like a hurricane to demonstrate that our creeks, rivers and ocean suffer significantly from our waste. Whether it is litter, debris or just items from our back yard, if it wasn’t tied down or tightly secured, it may have ended up in the river. While Hurricane Matthew was an extreme example of this regular phenomenon, it happens during even normal rainfall events. Our creeks, especially in our urban neighborhoods, continue to be depositories for everything that can be carried by wind or water from yards, driveways, and roads.
The young professionals group of St. Johns Riverkeeper, Rising Tides, along with partners, friends, and volunteers have been conducting monthly cleanups on McCoys Creek for almost 4 years. During that time, they’ve pulled some interesting things from the creek. Boat parts, a coke machine, kids toys, basketballs, soccer balls, roofing tiles, ceramic figurines and even a fully submerged boat. Of course, they have also removed thousands of bottles, beer cans, tires, cigarette butts, Styrofoam and plastics. This 2.5-mile tributary, stretching from the Murray Hill neighborhood through north Riverside and Brooklyn and reaching the St. Johns River underneath the Times-Union building, continues to become clogged with litter and debris following even minor storm events.
After four years of finding unique items, group leaders from Rising Tides are now looking to “repurpose” some of the waste, and they want you to help! Mixon Studios, a fun new artist space along McCoys Creek, has generously donated a “makerspace” to the Rising Tides to collect, clean and retain unique items pulled from the monthly cleanups. These materials are being sorted and stored onsite, and we are inviting artists and craftsman to come check out the materials – and use them for yourself! On December 15, we invite the public to come see what we have collected and hopefully inspire a creative response. If you want – tell us what you need! Are you looking for bottles or water-worn glass? Do you need distressed wood? Rising Tides plans to showcase some of the most unique creative projects in the sculpture garden at Mixon Studio next year during a “repurposed” outdoor event.
We know that cleanups alone won’t restore the health of our waterways. Often, they only provide a Band-Aid for a bleeding wound that temporarily solves the problem. However, everything that we pull from the creek during a cleanup prevents those items from reaching the river and ocean, becoming a choking hazard for marine life, releasing toxic chemicals or breaking down into smaller microplastics that harm aquatic animals and entire food chains. The “cure” will only come from major changes in our culture and infrastructure that prevent litter in the first place and effectively clean stormwater before it makes its way to our river.
Until those changes occur, folks like the Rising Tides will continue monthly cleanups – and you can too! Contact Justina@StJohnsRiverkeeper.org to schedule a river cleanup with your neighborhood, organization or business. We will connect you to Keep Jacksonville Beautiful for bags and gloves, let you know where trash and other polluted areas have been reported, and make sure Waste Management knows about your activity. Find out more about McCoys Creek Cleanups and Creek Creative: Repurposing Waste from McCoys Creek Cleanups at www.stjohnsriverkeeper.org/events.