The morning fog hung low over the Bay as I stood on the sidewalk of a cul-de-sac close to Shimada Friendship Park in Richmond, hugging my coffee mug and drawing my shawl a bit tighter around my neck—balmy temperatures and a bright blue sky, the forecast for the day, hadn’t materialized yet.
It was the third Saturday in September, and I was waiting for the group of adventurous volunteers, who were going to join me for a paddle to pick up marine debris at a riff-raff barrier. This was no ordinary Saturday! It was Coastal Clean-Up Day, the largest volunteer event world-wide, and dedicated solely to cleaning up the excess from a consumer lifestyle that chokes our waterways.
Coastal Clean-Up Day is one of the busiest events of the year for The Watershed Project staff. Hours before the first volunteers arrived to don latex gloves and get to work, staff members were busy in Shimada Park, setting up booths that provided clean-up supplies, snacks, drinking water and lots of information about the issue of marine debris and our watershed.
A few years back, Executive Director Linda Hunter was looking for a unique way to expand the scope of Coastal Clean-Up Day, and extend beyond simply picking up debris on beaches. Add to this the enthusiastic and well-connected kayaker and media-savvy board member— journalist Eric Vance— who got in touch with his kayaking friends, and magically, the “Flotsam Flotilla” was born!
Since its maiden voyage, the Flotsam Flotilla has become The Watershed Project’s flagship event for Coastal Clean-Up. The 2012 Flotsam Flotilla was featured in a Richmond Confidential news story explaining what makes this outing a particularly valuable experience.
By 8 a.m., all of my volunteers had arrived, and after a quick round of introductions we made our way toward the water, where we were greeted by fellow board member Annelise Moore and two colleagues from REI, who had already lined up the bunch of colorful double-seater kayaks we would soon be paddling.
After a brief tutorial on how to handle the kayaks and some basic safety instructions, our group of 15 launched onto the Bay for a 20-minute paddle to the riff-raff barrier— a dike a quarter-mile off Shimada Park. Sitting so close to the water, our small boat rocking with the waves, I became part of the Bay, and I was reminded why I love this place so much and want to protect it. On the dike, our kayaks filled up quickly with debris we pulled out of the brackish water. Nothing so strongly spurred my commitment to reducing the use of plastic as these hours of removing debris out here.
By the time we returned to shore, it was late morning, and the park was densely packed with volunteers cleaning the beach and adjacent wetlands. Participation in the Flotsam Flotilla and Coastal Clean-Up Day confronts us with the fact that there is no “away” for the bulk of things we use and discard daily.
If you are a water lover, and would like to join the Flotsam Flotilla, there are a few kayaks available for free for the first 10 volunteers who email Program Manager Juliana Gonzalez. You are also welcome to bring your own kayaks and join the flotilla to pick up trash from those difficult to reach areas of the marsh.
Corporations are also invited to sponsor Flotsam Flotilla events this summer. A trip on the Bay with your coworkers and employees is a wonderful opportunity to foster team building and stretch your legs! Interested corporations should contact Juliana Gonzalez.