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    Volunteers pluck trash from bay

    By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published September 22, 2002

    TAMPA -- Elaina Fojaco never forgot what the Girl Scouts taught her: Always leave it cleaner than when you found it.

    So on Saturday, while some of her peers were headed to the beach for some fun, the Hillsborough High School junior was walking the palm-lined waterfront next to the Courtney Campbell Parkway picking up trash.

    "I like going to the beach," said Fojaco, 16, garbage bag in hand. "But I don't like trash on my beach."

    Fojaco was one of more than 3,000 people who got up early Saturday to scour Hillsborough's rivers, lakes and bayfront as part of a global litter-removal effort.

    The annual coastal cleanup was organized by the Ocean Conservancy, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit that estimated it got help Saturday from 40,000 people in Florida and 1-million around the world. The local effort was spearheaded by Keep Hillsborough County Beautiful.

    Last year, volunteers worldwide removed 12.5-million pounds of trash.

    Organizers were hoping to top that figure this year, but won't know until next week just how much they got.

    "If that's how much you get in three hours on one day, imagine how much is really out there," said Michele Clary, cleanup coordinator at the Ocean Conservancy's regional office in St. Petersburg.

    Saturday's goal: Reduce water pollution. Make the waterfront look better. And lower the odds that wading birds and other marine animals may get tangled in fishing line and other man-made debris.

    In Hillsborough, volunteers fanned out to more than 20 sites.

    In Temple Terrace, 20 people plucked trash on the Hillsborough River while in canoes provided by Oak Haven River Retreat.

    In Riverview, 150 people in canoes and boats hauled garbage back to Riverview Civic Center.

    Under the Gandy Bridge, members of the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office dive team braved murky water and strong currents to retrieve trash from the bottom of Tampa Bay.

    Among the finds: Two barnacle-encrusted fishing poles and an ancient beer bottle with a baby grouper inside.

    At Cypress Beach, James Newcombe, 43, of St. Petersburg was picking up beer bottles and diapers -- yes, used -- amid the sand dunes and sea oats.

    He brought his children, Kaitlin, 9, and Matthew, 11.

    "We could be watching Bugs or Sponge Bob," Newcombe said. "But if we don't do it, who's going to?"

    Volunteers filled out "data cards" as they went, writing down what kind of trash they found and where.

    "Underwear," Fojaco said, back at the causeway.

    "Underwear," wrote her biology teacher, Jennifer Rosage, who heads Hillsborough High's Students for Environmental Awareness program.

    Was that the worst of it?

    "That, the razor blades and the crack baggie," Rosage said.

    Knowing what the volunteers find helps the Ocean Conservancy identify sources of litter -- and starting points for solutions.

    "If we find a lot of shampoo bottles from a cruise line, for example, we can work with that cruise line on reducing it," Clary said.

    -- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com.

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