Leave no trash behind

Photography by Alice Mary Herden

The weather was feared to be the worst according to the weather advisors, but that didn’t stop Eric Struchko's quest. That quest was to start cleaning up trash on the bottom of the Weeki Wachee River.

“I have been coming here since I was a child, I bring my family here every year and to see it go downhill over the years kind of sparked something in me,” said Eric Struchko of Lakeland, FL. Struchko is a member of Florida Coastal Conservation Association.

Weeki Wachee River

However, what loomed on the radar was avoided. The sky cleared just long enough for Eric, his sister Michelle Otte, her husband Rick and his best friend Tim Bunday to complete their river clean-up.

“We were just sitting out on the dock and saw so much trash floating by,” Michelle Otte said. “You [can] see the difference, you see the amount of people that actually caught on to this little secret hideaway, and honestly they don’t respect it.”

Those that do live on the river know the beauty of being riverside; being able to walk right on your deck and see nature and wildlife bloom with life. All that beauty is ruined when you see a plastic bottle float by. Weeki Wachee River is a huge tourism spot for Hernando County, but some of those tourist and locals tend to overlook what the responsibilities are to help preserve that beauty.

“It doesn’t take intelligence to not litter, and too see this pristine clarity of the water and everything it has to offer, why wasn’t I introduce to this as a child,” Michelle Otte said.

Michelle Otte, Eric Struchko, Rick Otte and Tim Bunday get geared up for the swim down stream.

A boat named Gupie had been packed up with supplies, snorkel and flippers carried the volunteers around 2 miles upstream while they looked for the litter. There were shoes in the trees, beer cans around the banks and once you see that, it just takes away the beauty of what this river is supposed be.

Once they reached a certain area on the river, they stopped, put on their snorkeling gear, grabbed their trash nets and started downstream.

Tim led the way as Rick, Michelle and I swam behind. Eric followed us in the boat. One look through the mask, you see the beauty of the river and everything in the world just disappears. There is a difference, there can be a difference and there should be a difference.

As we were carried by the current, we saw a variety of fish, from sheephead to mullet. There were also bottles half buried in the bottom and ripped tin beer cans embedded in the clay.

While grabbing as much as we can, breaking on shallower areas to clean up the banks we were greeted by a momma manatee and her calf. They pressed their muzzles in the sand, seeking some scrumptious sea grasses. I took a moment to reflect on the beauty of this moment and how important it is to remove that tin can embedded at the bottom.

The rain did come down, but that was the best experience. Being underwater and seeing the raindrops puncture the surface was amazing, just as amazing as witnessing an alligator snapping turtle swim right in front of me.

Reaching the end of our journey of cleaning up the bottom of the river, we were blessed to be greeted by another manatee and her older calf.

Eric Struchko, Rick Otte, Michelle Otte and Tim Bunday display what litter they picked up during the clean up on the Weeki Wachee River Monday morning.

We all felt overwhelmed with happiness and joy to experience such beauty underwater. We were all appreciative of the opportunity to preserve that beauty as well.

“It only takes a couple of people picking up trash on the way, it will stay clean,” Timothy Bunday said.

It may be true that some of the younger generations are lacking the educational resources of environmental and conservation needs and responsibilities…. However it’s never too late to start.

“I am getting more into the conservation and giving back as a whole, as a child I wasn’t taught that, and would prefer to lead by example with my children,” Struchko said.

Our Weeki Wachee River is a beautiful part of Hernando County, let us leave no trash behind.

Coastal Conservation Association Florida | http://www.ccaflorida.org/

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Please Note.... Weeki Wachee River has a strong current and there are places along the river that can be dangerous. More information about snorkeling safety visit this website: http://www.snorkeling.info/snorkeling-safety/index.html.
Another website to check out is http://www.exploreweekiwachee.com/diving

Michelle Otte, Eric Struchko, Rick Otte and Tim Bunday get geared up for the swim down stream.
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