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Big Sweep inspires hundreds to clean beaches

BY RODOLFO R. ROMAN
Special to The Miami Herald
Under the South Florida sun, Miami Beach resident Lorianne Kerserman walked on South Beach’s sand with a cat litter scoop attached to a mop handle with a goal: collecting as many cigarette butts as possible.

”I was appalled,” said Kerserman, who is a smoker. “When we were walking [on the beach] it was completely filled with soda bottles, cans, and potato chip bags.”

Kerserman was one of hundreds who volunteered on Sunday for the Environmental Coalition of Miami Beach’s second Miami Beach Big Sweep, a trash-collecting competition.

Teams of volunteers started at two stations — South Pointe Drive and Ocean Drive, and 15th Street and Ocean Drive — and converged at Seventh Street.

Volunteers combed the beach for garbage, especially cigarette butts, which are not biodegradable because the filters contain plastics.

The beach clean-up concept was a creation of ECOMB Executive Director Luiz Rodrigues, who has been passionate about the environment since he was 13.

”I think it’s enlightening and exciting that we see people care and are concerned about our beaches,” he said.

The event was a success: about 500 volunteers registered compared to last year’s 250.

Organizers didn’t have an official number on how much trash was collected. But after the event hundreds of bags of thrash and cigarette butts were on display on plastic tarps.

Rodrigues praised the city of Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County’s effort to keep the beach clean but said everyone needs to lend a hand to make the effort work.

”They [the city of Miami Beach and Miami-Dade County] are better than they have ever been before,” he said.” But they alone can’t solve the problem. They need the support of our residents and visitors.”

Susan Lewis, a Miami Dade College North professor who teaches energy and the natural environment, offered extra credit to students who attended the sweep.

”It’s a win-win situation for everyone,” she said. “It helps them learn and help the beach.”

Eight students joined Lewis. Her group collected the most trash and won the Can It! Award. She said the event was helpful to her students as they had a chance to see what they learn in the classroom in “real life terms.”

Perpetual trophies, which are passed on from last year’s winners, were awarded to the groups that had the most volunteers, picked up the most trash and collected the most cigarette butts. Trophies were made of recycled airplane parts made to look like rakes, garbage cans and other cleaning tools.

Individuals were also awarded prizes such as a dolphin encounter at Miami Seaquarium.

Public officials, such as U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Miami Beach Commissioner Jerry Libbin, also were on hand to help.

”It’s amazing how little concern some folks have about the beach, but what’s really amazing is the people who are really concerned and volunteered,” Ros-Lehtinen said.

Kerserman’s trusty creation, the cat litter scoop attached to a mop handle, came in handy because it helped her team, Advantaged Yacht Charters and Sales, win the Beach Master award, which is awarded to the team which collects the most cigarette butts.

Her team does more than pick up butts, though. It also does a little preaching.

”We carry a beach ash tray with us,” she said. “We’ve showed them to enough people and hopefully they’ll order some for themselves to take to the beach.”

Volunteers also enjoyed a raffle, lunch and refreshments. ECOMB plans to host another beach clean-up later this month.

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