PANAMA CITY — I signed a pledge last weekend. I promised that, the next time I go to the beach, I will pick up and properly dispose of at least five pieces of litter.
Now, this doesn't seem like much of a promise, certainly not a hassle. For me, it's an easy obligation, because one of my favorite things to do at the beach is to just walk along the surf, letting the waves wash over my feet while I watch the water for interesting shells. I always pick up trash when I do this. I've collected everything from bottle caps and plastic bags to sunglasses and beach toys. One time I found one of those plastic spheres that bubblegum machine prizes come in, and it had money inside. Another trip, the kids and I gathered four different pairs of barnacle-encrusted shades.
But picking up any amount of trash might seem like a lot to ask of some people — particularly those who leave their beer cans, plastic bottles, cigarette butts, broken beach chairs, plastic bags and other detritus behind when they vacate "The World's Most Beautiful Beaches."
The pledge was the idea of Cameron Hedden, the son of Jason and Rebecca Hedden. He's quite the thinker, as you might have noticed if you've ever seen some of Jason's Facebook entries where he details their conversations. Cameron brought his folder for sign-ups to a book launch event at the Panama City Center for the Arts on Saturday, where he collected more than 20 signatures.
"My passion is to protect animals," he said, adding that he wants to grow up to be a zoologist.
In the same vein, Red Alert Diving in Panama City Beach (RADscuba.com) has scheduled a monthly “Dive Against Debris" jetty cleanup effort at St. Andrews State Park. This is an opportunity for divers to participate in a public service project together, but also for non-divers to help by cleaning up the shoreline. The events will be from 10 a.m. to noon on Saturdays each month, starting Feb. 16, and continuing on March 16, April 27, May 25, June 22, July 20, Aug. 24, Sept. 21, Oct. 26, Nov. 23 and Dec. 7. The Friends of St. Andrews State Park organization (FriendsOfStAndrews.org) is seeking volunteers to join the effort.
"Our first cleanup last month was a huge success — over 700 pounds of trash were removed from the park," said a Red Alert Facebook post. "This is a great opportunity to help the environment and preserve our favorite shore diving site for others to enjoy. We recommend bringing a mesh bag to store debris during the dive. Don't forget to bring gloves to protect your hands."
And then there was a photo circulating on Facebook this week that purportedly shows a coffee shop employee in South Walton County holding a plastic sand pail and a sign encouraging customers to fill the pail with "rubbish" and return it for a free cup of coffee. (If you know where that photo originated, please let me know.)
"Every little bit helps," the sign says. No matter where the photo originated, that sentiment is not wrong. Every little bit helps.
Cameron understands this already. I wish everyone did.
Tony Simmons is, among other things, a writer/editor for The News Herald. If you see him picking up trash at the beach, say hello.