When beaches in Cocoa Beach reopened last weekend, people flocked to the sand—and the trash came with them.
While a lot of visitors did the right thing and disposed of their trash in cans, others left their items strewn on the beach, according to Keep Brevard Beautiful.
The Florida-based non-profit said it’s seen an influx of trash since the city’s beaches reopened the first weekend in May.
“People will come from out of town and leave an umbrella, a tent, or chairs because it’s a one-time use,” Bryan Bobbitt, Keep Brevard Beautiful executive director, told CNN. “Chip bags, plastic straw wrappers, and anything can get blown into the dunes.”
Two weekends ago, teams collected 297 bags of trash—at 40 pounds a bag, that’s almost 12,000 pounds, Bobbitt said. He estimates the weight was higher, as tent poles, beach chairs, and other heavy items were left on beaches.
This weekend was close to that number with 305 bags of trash, he said. On average, crews collect 30 to 40 bags on a day during this time of year, he said.
The non-profit worries about what trash will do to the marine life, and also to the beach environment. The goal is to keep beaches clean so humans and animals can enjoy it.
“When we see something that can be a choking hazard to marine life, we make it a point to get that stuff as well,” Bobbitt said. “If we don’t pick it up, it gets blown into the water. We’ve all seen the photo of the straw stuck in a sea turtle’s nose or a 6-pack ring around a bird’s neck.”
The staff and volunteers at Keep Brevard Beautiful typically clear the 100 trash cans on the beaches of Cocoa Beach about three times a day, he said. They focus on emptying the cans first, but if they see debris and litter, they grab as much as they can.
“The numbers we are seeing right now rival Memorial Day and Fourth of July weekend,” Bobbitt said.
With the surge in trash—both in overflowing garbage cans and the waste left on the beach—the Cocoa Beach Police Department issued a reminder that littering on the beach will result in a $250 fine. The citation existed before the pandemic.
“As restrictions are becoming more relaxed during this pandemic, the City of Cocoa Beach is beginning to see an influx of day-trippers to our beaches, along with piles of unlawfully discarded trash in their wake,” Cocoa Beach Police Department wrote in a statement.
Police are dispatching more officers to the beach to focus on litter violations and that started this weekend, Cocoa Beach Detective Sgt. Thomas Cooper told CNN.
“People had been cooped up in their homes,” Cooper said. “This weekend we had a ton of people out on the beach. We had a little over 10,000 people.”
Even with undercover and uniformed officers out on the beach, citing someone for littering on the beach is harder than it sounds, he said.
“You have to say they’re the person who legally left that trash,” Cooper said. “The officers are stuck unless they see who left the trash behind.”
The police department only cited one person for littering on the beach this weekend, he said.
There were a lot of violations for drinking and for having glass on the beach, he said. Normally, Cocoa Beach is one of the few places in the state that permits drinking on the beach.
The city banned alcohol from all public beaches on March 20. Violations have a $500 fine.
Neither the police nor the non-profit are trying to prevent people from going to the beach and getting some fresh air. They just want people to enjoy the beaches responsibly.
“We don’t want people to not come to the beach. It’s there for everyone to enjoy,” Bobbitt said. “If people just pick up for themselves and take it home to recycle it, that’s even better.”