Millions of tourists have lapped up sun, surf and sand on Alabama’s pristine white beaches this year. But those beaches wouldn’t be as beautiful without thousands of volunteers who rolled up their sleeves and cleared trash from the coastline Sept. 16 during the 30th Coastal Cleanup.
For the past three years, Joe Poirier and his son, Joe II, have donned plastic gloves and walked the beach, picking up garbage and life lessons.
“(I hope my son learns) good morals, responsibility and just to be a man,” said the elder Poirier, who participated with his son’s Cub Scout troop. “I took the day off work today. I work seven days a week, but this is more important.”
The Poiriers joined over 5,100 other volunteers who collected more than 35,000 pounds of trash from the coastline and rivers in Baldwin and Mobile counties. Coastal Cleanup is coordinated by the Coastal Section of Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) and Alabama People Against a Littered State (PALS).
“This is the largest volunteer event in the state of Alabama,” said Phillip Hinesley of ADCNR. “We have people who have participated for 30 years, 25 years or 20 years. I think once people get involved and see how what they’re doing helps improve the environment, they come back every year. ”
Hinesley said there are numerous sources of litter, from boats and offshore operations to debris from upland sources that wash into storm drains.
“Mobile Bay drains two-thirds of the state, so a lot of the trash in the bay actually comes from other rivers and streams,” he said.
To participate, volunteers reported to one of 30 zones in the two counties where they received gloves, trash and recycle bags, bottled water and T-shirts.
“We had a crowd at 7:30 a.m. waiting on me to set up, and we don’t officially start until 8 a.m.,” said Nicole Woerner, a zone captain at Boggy Point. “This zone is unique because volunteers have to be shuttled by boat over to three islands.”
Woerner made the event a family affair, bringing along her 8-year-old and 5-year-old who also helped pick up garbage.
“It is a responsibility and a duty to keep our waterways clean, but we have a lot of fun, too,” she said. “We saw dolphins this morning, and we saw the osprey fly. We pick up trash, but we also swim and just have a ball. And it’s only four hours of the morning, so there’s still plenty of time to watch football or go to other events.”
Sarah Beth Sennett was one of over 50 volunteers at the Boggy Point zone who helped clear litter from Bird, Robinson and Walker islands.
“We are out here today because we live and work down here,” Sennett said. “We love our city and want to keep it nice for ourselves and others that get to come and enjoy it as well.”
Learn more about the volunteer program at AlabamaCoastalCleanup.com.
Alfa Insurance and the Alabama Farmers Federation sponsor Alabama PALS and its annual events, including Coastal Cleanup.