On October 11, the Hillsborough County Soil and Water Conservation District honored the Gasp—Our Beads of Tampa Bay Survey and Clean-Up project with its Hillsborough 100 Conservation Challenge Outstanding Project of the Year award.
The award ceremony was part of the 2018 Hillsborough 100 Conservation Challenge Kickoff Luncheon held at the Florida Strawberry Growers Association and attended by representatives from vaious regional public, private, and not-for-profit organizations. Project representatives attending the awards ceremony included Angie Cowan on behalf of the NAUI Green Diver Initiative (GDI), Dylan Carney representing the Center for Open Exploration (C4OE) and St. Pete Makers, and Chris Harris from Brandon Scuba.
“We were delighted to have the NAUI Green Diver Initiative and Center for Ocean Exploration as partners. The objectives of the Gasp–Our Beads project aligned perfectly with what we wanted to accomplish through the Hillsborough 100 Conservation Challenge. That’s why they received this special honor,” said Betty Jo Tompkins, Executive Director of the Hillsborough County Soil and Water Conservation District.
With funding from a Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) Mini Grant, the NAUI GDI partnered with C4OE this past Earth Day weekend to carry out the inaugural Gasp – Our Beads of Tampa Bay Survey and Clean-Up Project in which 25 scuba divers plunged into the Seddon Channel off of Davis Island in downtown Tampa to do their part in support of Earth Day.
“The clean-up event was just one of several Hillsborough 100 projects that occurred throughout the region. What made this effort unique was that we were able to coordinate our NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) network of scuba divers to address pollution issues that are beneath the waves and can often be forgotten due to an ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality,” said NAUI Communications Coordinator and Gasp – Our Beads Co-Coordinator Angie Cowan. “That type of approach to pollution and water quality can have negative and short- and long-term impacts on the health of the bay.”
When all was said and done, nearly 100 pounds of beads and 70 pounds of trash were collected along a stretch of the channel that covered approximately 1,000 feet along and about 75 feet out from the seawall. Volunteers included seven captains, 25 scuba divers, three kayakers, one paddle boarder, and about a dozen others who provided topside support.
Support for the project came from a number of local groups and residents who volunteered their time and energy to make the event possible. Donations included boat usage, fuel, scuba gear, and expertise in documenting the event and providing logistical support. Scientific divers from C4OE, including Director Erica Moulton, and The Florida Aquarium helped to coordinate the sampling, surveying and data collection. Eager to gain experience in conducting citizen science projects, University of Tampa marine biology students were on hand as well.
Based on preliminary research into the fate of festival beads, GDI and C4OE could not find that much underwater surveying or clean-ups have occurred, making the Gasp – Our Beads data some of the first of its kind, at least in the Tampa Bay region. Similar research related to Mardi Gras in Louisiana could provide the potential for more far-reaching collaboration and discussion of alternatives to plastic beads that sink. Options already being tested in some areas include biodegradable beads that would be less persistent in the environment and/or floating beads that could be more easily collected.
“We look forward to working with them again in the future to continue the event and promote conservation, outreach and education efforts related to the health of our coastal waters,” said Tompkins.
Special thanks is given to the Tampa Bay Estuary Program (TBEP) for its generous support. To find out more about the TBEP Mini Grant program, go to http://www.tbep.org/bay_mini-grants.html.
You can also connect with us on social media: Facebook and Twitter @C4OE_Explorer and @NAUIGreenDiver.
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