The gold and greening hues of the marsh stretched out in vast expanses Monday on either side of the F.J. Torras Causeway, offering drivers a panorama fit for an artist’s canvas.
But as motorists zipped by on their morning commute, Sharon Hindery stood 15 yards into the marsh looking at an entirely different picture — and it was not pretty.
Pale splotches of polymer whites, manufactured blacks and an assortment of synthetic greens, yellows and blues pockmarked the natural grays of the marsh wrack. Among them a golf cart tire, a can of Deep Woods Off bug spray, a can of Michelob Ultra and dozens of faded plastic soda bottles.
“I just can’t stand the fact that it’s out there,” said Hindery, a northern Glynn County resident.
And that is why Hindery and her husband, Rich, joined forces with Jared DiVicent and Will Pittenger to step off the beaten path at the foot of the Back River Bridge and do something about it.
“This is the A-team of trash pickup,” said Lea King-Badyna, executive director of Keep Golden Isles Beautiful. “These are our hardiest trash picker-uppers.”
Armed with gloves, garbage bags and wading boots, these local volunteers answered King-Badyna’s call to launch a proactive strike on marsh trash. Along with Christy Throwbridge, Keep Golden Isles Beautiful’s ever-versatile staff of one, King-Badyna and her A-team went where county cleanup crews can’t venture and volunteer roadside cleanup crews seldom dare.
“We need the A-team going out waist deep into the marsh to pick up trash, where the county is not able to go due to liability issues,” King-Badyna said as the crew stepped off the shoulder of the road. “If it were not for these volunteers the trash would stay in the marsh.”
And that trash looked daunting enough once they trudged down into the marsh, beginning their quest from the Brunswick end of the bridge on the north side of the causeway. In addition to the above-mentioned trash, they would find plastic shopping bags, motor oil bottles, a plastic pool skimmer net and, yes, even an empty bag of Second Nature Wholesome Medley trail mix. Splattered everywhere were blue chunks of flotation foam, shattered away from docks up and down the Georgia coast last October during Hurricane Matthew.
“Look at what we’ve got ahead of us,” King-Badyna said, staring out at all of the above scattered across the marsh in front of them to the east.
They set out at low tide, working in concert with the salt marsh’s unique natural cleaning system. The muck beneath the spartina grass along the winding Back River was pristine and spotless. The high tide cycles push most of the trash up onto the rack, the thick mats of dead and naturally composting spartina that gathers on the marsh’s edge.
Spread out in a line about 30 yards deep, the A-team headed east, picking up trash as they went. Bags full of trash were tied and tossed to the roadside. Also moved to the roadside were car tires, a television set and other garbage too big or too heavy to bag.
DiVicent found a hubcap poking up from a patch of muck. The St. Simons Island resident pried it loose and looked toward the roadside.
“Don’t throw your arm out,” Sharon Hindery said.
Not a problem. DiVicent gave it a Frisbee fling, sending it slinging mud to a landing on the shoulder. “I just wanted to come out here and do my part,” DiVicent said. “We live in a beautiful place and we shouldn’t take it for granted.”
Further out on the edge of the wrack, Pittenger steadily filled his bag with bottles, cans, plastic this-and-thats and those innumerable pieces of blue dock foam.
“You can come out here and make a difference in just a short amount of time,” said Pittenger, a resident of Brunswick’s Historic District. “It’s good for the wildlife. You’re not only getting rid of things that aren’t going to break down for 10,000 years, like plastics, but it also improves the visual. People can drive through this beautiful area and not be distracted by a lot of trash in this beautiful marsh.”
And sure enough. Two hours, a few bad puns and a lot of laughs later, the A-team could look back on the path they had taken with satisfaction. The natural grays of the marsh wrack reached back to the bridge uninterrupted by those misplaced colors of discarded mass production. Just like nature intended.
The final tally was 900 pounds of trash and seven tires removed from the marsh, King-Badyna said. Glynn County employee Louis Rhett followed the crew in a truck and trailer to load up the trash they gathered.
A lot of it could have gone back out on the next outgoing tide. King-Badyna can talk a person’s ear off about non-biodegradable micro-plastics getting out into ocean and wreaking havoc on the food chain there.
“The Great Pacific Garbage Patch alone is the size of Texas,” she said.
Meanwhile, the patch of clean marsh created by the A-team stretched maybe a half-mile. Barely a dent in the overall problem, they know. But looking back, all the A-team could see was a marsh that looked a whole lot better than if they had stayed home.
“Every effort makes a difference,” King-Badyna said of Monday’s outing, part of Keep Golden Isles Beautiful’s Marsh Madness cleanup campaign. “There’s hundreds of miles to go. We’re out here picking up in the marsh and we’re hoping people driving by will see our effort and maybe think about how they can do their part.”