By Lauren Miheli, Membership and Volunteer Manager
On Saturday, September 18th, about 35 volunteers gathered to help improve shorebird habitat by cleaning up the beach at our Bolivar Flats Sanctuary. This event was part of a statewide effort to turn the tide against marine debris called Adopt-a-Beach. It was also one of the first official events of Houston Bird Week.
The morning started out sunny but relatively cool after tropical storm Nicholas on Tuesday. Volunteers at first observed that the beach didn’t look as bad as it had at past beach cleanups, but assumed this was because much of the litter blew into the grassy dunes. Upon closer inspection there was indeed quite a lot of refuse, and a surprising variety of items. This year, we saw something that hadn’t been a common sight in previous year’s cleanups, which was a large amount of both cloth and disposable face masks.
Despite the hard work involved in cleaning up the beach, and the warming temperatures as the morning turned into afternoon, volunteers thoroughly enjoyed themselves because of both the beautiful scenery and the variety of birds they saw while working. Several volunteers had been planning to visit the sanctuary for a while and decided the beach cleanup would be a good excuse for them to finally make the trip.
Many of the volunteers drove over from Houston in the morning and took the ferry, getting an opportunity to delight in the bottlenose dolphins in the ship channel. Another close wildlife encounter happened when one volunteer stumbled on a complete shed snake skin when he was picking up litter at the edge of the dunes. Everyone was excited by the find and Coastal Sanctuaries Manager Pete Deichmann showed it off to the Girl Scout troop that celebrated their hard efforts by taking a swim in the Gulf. Mother Nature seemed to thank us when a dragonfly landed on one volunteer’s fingertip and perched there for a few photos, while butterflies were seen flitting about in the sea air.
After only 3 hours of working the group collected 100s of pounds of junk that was littering the beach and threatening wildlife. Animals that call the shore home are at risk of ingesting plastics while they are foraging potentially leading to their death, or can get tangled up in lost fishing line and nets, which is why efforts to clean up are so helpful. We are humbled and grateful for the hard work and dedication of our volunteers who are willing to take a big problem like plastic pollution and take action to help address the immediate consequences of it by cleaning up our Texas beaches.