Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful Engages Volunteers in Trash Free Waters Program

By Kira Baker, Environmental Project Manager – Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful

Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful motivates over 16,000 community members to remove trash and debris from our most valuable natural resource – our waterways each year. By engaging residents in an awareness campaign last year, our volunteers removed over 50 tons of litter at over 80 sites throughout Hillsborough County. Our Trash Free Waters Program encourages community residents throughout Hillsborough counties to be vigilant in protecting the waterways towards a more beautiful Tampa Bay.

As part of this program on April 21, 2023, and with support from Restore America’s Estuaries and CITGO through the Caring for our Coast grant program, we hosted our Annual Great Port Cleanup – a day of service, and environmental education!

851 volunteers, from youth to corporate groups, worked 32 sites around Port Tampa Bay and other waterways in Hillsborough County. Efforts focus on removing litter, marine debris, and invasive plants.

Our objective is to increase environmental awareness and community pride by combining a day environmental service and a celebration of natural resources. Data is collected from each site including the number and type of littered items, the overall tonnage removed, and the amount of recyclable material diverted. This information is used to determine future needs and projects, while creating an awareness of these needs within the community.

In 2023, volunteers removed 79,698 pounds of debris and 30,013 pounds of invasive plants!

Our event serves an important purpose – cleaning up the rivers and tributaries that feed Tampa Bay. Our goal is to not only clean up these sites, but also to cultivate and support environmental citizenship; draw awareness, understanding and appreciation to Florida’s environment; and develop the capacity to think critically and participate constructively in its protection. The Great Port Cleanup is a high-profile event so part of the community impact is an increase in environmental awareness and stewardship of residents. Everyone wants to live in a clean, beautiful community.

This event helped us to remove nearly 40 tons of debris from our shorelines and neighborhoods. Large-scale, visible volunteer events, such as the Great Port Cleanup reinforce positive actions and personal responsibility. These types of efforts have a tremendous impact on quality of life for residents and help attract tax-paying businesses. The Great Port Cleanup creates community pride, camaraderie among volunteer participants and makes our neighborhoods more livable.

Our mission at Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful is to promote a culture of environmental stewardship through educational and volunteer opportunities. We do this through education and volunteer action. We believe that early involvement is the key to building a generation of environmentally responsible citizens. Through our environmental education programs, we engage youth to become lifelong stewards of our environment. Everyone wants to live in a beautiful, clean community. Our projects improve blight, remove litter and debris, resulting in more livable neighborhoods, and the Great Port Clean Up is one of our largest efforts to do so each year!

This project was funded through the 2023 round of the Caring For Our Coast Gulf Region Grants, a partnership between RAE and Citgo. For more information, click here.