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First Ever Large Scale Mangrove Cleanup in the Territory Nets Thousands of Pounds of Debris

Volunteers gather for the Great Mangrove Cleanup in Estate Nadir on April 21, 2018.

The Great Mangrove Cleanup, the first large-scale community cleanup of the St. Thomas East End Reserves (STEER), took place last Saturday, April 21. STEER is a marine protected area on the east end of St. Thomas. One hundred twenty-six volunteers gathered to remove debris, large and small, from STEER’s mangrove shorelines. 

“A clean-up of this scale, in such a difficult-to-access environment, like the mangroves, has never been done before in St. Thomas,” said Dr. Kristin Wilson Grimes, research assistant professor of Watershed Ecology.”  Through the hard work of 126 people, we cleaned more than 3,000 pounds of trash from the mangroves in a single day. What an amazing team effort by all the volunteers who gave up part of their Saturday to make this happen and a huge thank you to our sponsors who made this event possible.” 

“We picked up 1,765 plastic beverage containers on Saturday, more than four times any other item we collected that wasn’t broken into pieces,” said Dr. Grimes. “That’s an incredible number for such a small section of shoreline. What that tells me, is that if we want to reduce marine debris in the USVI, we should think about what we drinking out of, where we dispose of it, and where it might end up.” 

Conservatively, organizers estimate more than 3,000 pounds of trash were removed from mangrove shorelines of STEER. The vast majority of debris originated from land-based versus marine-based sources with 90-95 percent of items and most of the items collected, approximately 65-70 percent, were plastic. These patterns are consistent with marine debris patterns globally. 

Items from the cleanup that could be re-used were – fenders, buoys, pieces of wood; metal was recycled for scrap; hard plastics (e.g., plastic beverage bottles, other plastic bottles) were recycled through Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Coastal Zone Management recycling program with Terracycle (run by DPNR CZM’s Education and Outreach Coordinator Kristina Edwards). 

The top 10 items collected at The Great Mangrove Clean-Up were:

  • 1,765 plastic beverage containers
  • 1,000 misc. plastic pieces 
  • 585 foam pieces
  • 417 aluminum beverage cans
  • 359 other plastic bottles
  • 328 plastic bags
  • 307 glass bottles
  • 298 pieces of rope
  • 265 plastic cups
  • 201 plastic food containers 

Other fun finds included: 

  • 55 shoes
  • 1 pool noodle 
  • 2 fire extinguishers
  • 11 snorkels 

Participating in the cleanup was a team from the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) including members of the Center for Marine and Environmental Studies (CMES), Master of Marine and Environmental Studies (MMES) students and UVI undergraduates. Nearly 50 individuals from All Hands and Hearts, a volunteer organization assisting in hurricane recovery in the territory, also participated in the cleanup. Also at hand were members of the VI-EPSCoR (Virgin Islands Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research), VIMAS (Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service); federal agencies Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA); local agencies (Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) Division of Environment Enforcement and Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority); and other local non-profits. Also participating were Marine Rebuild Fund, Perfect Heart, Blue Flag, Camp Umoja, Environmental Association of St. Thomas, the Episcopal Church, and senate candidate, Sean Georges.

The Cleanup was sponsored by VI-EPSCoR, UVI CMES, VIMAS, DPNR CZM, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Program, NOAA Marine Debris Program, Pizza Pi (who supplied lunch and boat safety support), the Marine Rebuild Fund, U.S. Virgin Islands (who provided lunch for the volunteers), VI Ecotours (who provided four staff members, and more than 30 kayaks, paddles, and life jackets). Custom Builders provided logistical support and supplied dump trucks to cart the trash to the Bovoni Landfill.