First Large Scale Mangrove Cleanup in Territory Nets 3,000+ Pounds of Debris

More than 100 people volunteered to clean up STEER’s mangrove shorelines.

The Great Mangrove Cleanup, the first large-scale community cleanup of the St. Thomas East End Reserves (STEER), took place Saturday, April 21. STEER is a marine-protected area on the east end of St. Thomas. Some 126 volunteers gathered to remove debris, large and small, from STEER’s mangrove shorelines. 

Volunteers came from many agencies, organizations, schools and non-profits. Conservatively, organizers estimated more than 3,000 pounds of trash were removed from mangrove shorelines of STEER. The vast majority of debris originated from land-based versus marine-based sources (90-95 percent of items), and most of the items collected, approximately 65-70 percent, were plastic. These patterns are consistent with marine debris patterns globally. 

Items that could be re-used were fenders, buoys, pieces of wood; metal was recycled for scrap; hard plastics (e.g., plastic beverage bottles, other plastic bottles) were recycled through DPNR CZM’s recycling program with Terracycle. 

The top 10 items collected at The Great Mangrove Clean-Up were

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1,765 plastic beverage containers

1,000 misc. plastic pieces 

585 foam pieces

417 aluminum beverage cans

359 other plastic bottles

328 plastic bags

307 glass bottles

298 pieces of rope

265 plastic cups

201 plastic food containers 

Other fun finds included: 

55 shoes

1 pool noodle 

2 fire extinguishers

11 snorkels 

“A clean-up of this scale, in such a difficult-to-access environment, like the mangroves, has never been done before in St. Thomas. Through the hard work of 126 people, we cleaned more than 3,000 lbs. of trash from the mangroves in a single day. What an amazing team effort by all the volunteers who gave up part of their Saturday to make this happen — and a huge thank you to our sponsors who made this event possible,” said Dr. Kristin Wilson Grimes. 

“We picked up 1,765 plastic beverage containers on Saturday, more than four times any other item we collected that wasn’t broken into pieces. That’s an incredible number for such a small section of shoreline. What that tells me is that if we want to reduce marine debris in the USVI, we should think about what we drink out of, where we dispose of it, and where it might end up,” said Grimes. 

Volunteers and Sponsors included University of the Virgin Islands, Center for Marine and Environmental Studies (CMES), Master of Marine and Environmental Studies (MMES) students, UVI undergraduates, All Hands and Hearts, VI-EPSCoR (Virgin Islands Established Program to Stimulate Competitive Research), VIMAS (Virgin Islands Marine Advisory Service), (FEMA), V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR), Division of Coastal Zone Management, DPNR Division of Environmental Enforcement, V.I. Waste Management Authority, local non-profits, Marine Rebuild Fund, Perfect Heart, Blue Flag, Camp Umoja, Environmental Association of St. Thomas (EAST), Episcopal Church and Sean Georges (senate candidate).

The cleanup was sponsored by VI-EPSCoR, UVI CMES, VIMAS, DPNR CZM, the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coral Reef Conservation Program, NOAA Marine Debris Program, Pizza Pi (which supplied lunch and boat safety support), the Marine Rebuild Fund — U.S. Virgin Islands (who provided lunch for the volunteers), VI Eco Tours and Custom Builders.

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