Friends of the V.I. National Park staff and volunteers, above, smile for the camera after cleaning up the shoreline at Drunk Bay on the first day of Coastweeks. GHS student Luke Patrie found a Hawksbill turtle hatchling at Mary’s Creek during a cleanup, below.
Coastweeks has only just kicked off and volunteers have already removed hundreds of pounds of debris from St. John shorelines and rescued a turtle hatchling.
International Coastweeks Cleanup Day was celebrated on Saturday, September 17, which also marked the beginning of the three-week long observance of VI Coastweeks, where community members across the island remove debris from beaches and shorelines.
The event is celebrated territory-wide and supported by Ocean Conservancy, V.I. National Park, VI Marine Advisory Service, Waste Management Authority, Coastal Zone Management and Friends of VINP.
Drunk Bay was the first area cleaned on September 17 by Friends of VINP. The group removed about 200 pounds of trash from the area, filling up 14 bags of debris, explained Friends programs manager Audrey Penn.
“There was a lot of debris out there, but there is also a lot of sargassum up on the beach which is covering even more trash,” said Penn. “Still we were able to remove about 200 pounds of trash which filled a total of 14 bags. There were lots of plastic liter water bottles, plastic bottle caps and a big five gallon bottle of engine oil that had washed up.”
“The oil was so heavy we couldn’t remove it, so a ranger had to go down to the beach later and take it out for us,” said Penn.
VINP Enforcement Ranger David Horner helped the group by filling the back of a park truck with the oil bottle and a large pice of rope which had been lodged in rocks for years, Penn explained.
“There was a big cruise ship rope which had been on the shoreline but lodged in rocks for three years,” said Penn. “It finally dislodged so we were able to drag it out, but it was too heavy to carry up the hill.”
The real excitement of Coastweeks so far came on Friday, September 23, when VINP education specialist Laurel Brannick led Gifft Hill School sixth, seventh and eighth grade students on a cleanup of Mary’s Creek.
“Last Friday I was doing a clean up of Mary’ Creek with the GHS students and I split them into two groups because there were so many kids,” said Brannick. “I sent the boys down into the creek where it was really nasty with sargassum about knee deep.”
By the end of the day, GHS students picked up 772 individual items of trash weighing in at about 250 pounds, including one tiny little treasure, Brannick explained.
“They found a bunch of bottles and plastic rope and all kinds of things,” she said. “While cleaning up the creek GHS student Luke Patrie found a little Hawksbill turtle hatchling. He put it in a bucket of water and ran all the way down the road to where I was with the girls.”
Brannick was able to contact Department of Planning and Natural Resources’ Division of Fish and Wildlife scientist Renata Platenburg who advised the ranger to put the two-inch hatchling in wet sand and take it to VINP Chief of Resource Management Rafe Boulon.
“We brought it up to Rafe’s office and he took it home because you can’t release turtles during the day,” said Brannick. “At 9:30 p.m. that night, Rafe brought the turtle to Trunk Bay and stimulated it to get it heading down to the sea and get its internal compass turned on.”
“He was a lucky little tyke,” Brannick said. “He probably would not have lived if Luke didn’t find him.”
Officials believe the turtle was likely hatched the day before in the Waterlemon Cay or Leinster Bay area and got caught in the current and swept into Mary’s Creek, along with a lot of debris.
“It was great to find him alive during Coastweeks,” Brannick said. “There are some pretty sad statistics about how many dead animals, birds, turtles and more, are found during Coastweeks.”
St. John Rotary Club members didn’t rescue any turtle hatchlings, but did find a few interesting items during the group’s recent clean up of Jumbie Bay, Penn explained.
“John Fuller and Joan Bermingham did a great job out at Jumbie,” said the Friends program manager. “They found the top of a crutch among the bags of debris they removed from the shoreline.”
Coral Bay resident David Silverman took on the Brown Bay shoreline by himself and removed six bags of trash including lots of plastic bottles and jugs, according to Penn.
It’s not too late to get involved; there are more beach clean ups planned throughout October, Penn added.
“We also have several beaches available for people to adopt and take care of all year long,” she said.
For more information on VI Coastweeks, joining a coordinated cleanup or Friends’ Adopt-A-Beach/Trail Program contact Penn at 779-4940 or firstname.lastname@example.org.