While some beach goers fished or kiteboarded at Elmer’s Island Saturday morning, much of the beach was flooded with volunteers armed with five-gallon buckets, trash grabbers and gloves.
Despite the threat of rain, more than 150 people arrived to help pick up trash in one of the many efforts held around the globe as part of International Coastal Cleanup Day.
As they walked up to check in, Nicholls State University graduate student Sarah Fontana called out instructions to the groups. Gesturing to the clipboard, she explained how to fill out the data sheet, one that was uniform between all cleanups associated with the day of action.
Groups were asked to track their most unusual items and tally the number of times they find specific items like cigarette butts, fishing nets or other waste.
Allyse Ferrara, one of the event’s organizers and an environmental biology professor at Nicholls, waited next to the scales as volunteers emptied their buckets into trash bags to be weighed and thrown into a dumpster.
On average, each trash bag weighed about 15 pounds, she said. Ultimately, they removed 3,800 pounds of trash. Last year, they collected more than 3,500 pounds.
More than 300 people registered for the cleanup -- the most to date. The number of volunteers has slowly increased from 60 during its first year about seven years ago.
They also had more sponsors with the Grand Isle Music Fest and the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries joining the Thibodaux-based environmental agency Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program and Nicholls State University.
Off the Hook also provided jambalaya, and Shell sent volunteers.
Before the cleanup officially started, a smaller group of volunteers also participated in a 10-minute survey where they collected nurdles -- small balls of plastic -- on the beach as part of new initiative on the Gulf Coast to track their prevalence.
Ferrara said when she participated in the September sampling, their group found 32 nurdles in 10 minutes.
This year, the cleanup also coincided with the end of National Estuaries Week, providing a fitting conclusion.
“It’s great to do something like this with it,” said Ferrara. “I think we’re lucky to work in the biggest estuary in the nation and what I think is the most important one.”
Throughout the week, Barataria-Terrebonne National Estuary Program, or BTNEP, held a social media campaign to raise awareness about estuaries and their significance.
BTNEP Public Involvement Coordinator Seth Moncrief said the cleanup wasn’t only about removing trash but showing people who participate that the estuary faces serious issues.
“Many people only live an hour north, but they’ve never been here,” he said. “This shows them that we do have a marine debris problem.”
While some of the trash is left behind by people visiting the beach, most of it washes onshore from other places along the Gulf of Mexico or farther away. He said they’ve found bottles from Japan.
“If every one of the people here go home and tells one person that they should limit their plastic and trash, it’s a success,” said Moncrief.
Though Nicholls sophomore Rhea Patureau and boyfriend Blaze Coleman were mainly motivated to volunteer by bonus points for biology class, they said they were surprised by how much trash they had found within the first hour of them arriving.
Coleman said it was his first time participating in a beach cleanup and found it interesting how much of the trash appeared to have washed up on the beach.
Nicholls graduate student Taylor Beck said she had volunteered before but was always happy to see more people help.
The Florida native said she found that at the beaches in her home state, people never noticed the amount of trash coming out of the ocean. Like the BTNEP staff, she hopes that participating helps increase awareness.
“If they know it’s here, then maybe they’ll be more interested in coming out all the time,” she said.
-- Daily Comet Staff Writer Halle Parker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 857-2204. Follow her on Twitter, @_thehalparker.