A local community helps restore a corner of Florida's Tampa Bay, one bag of trash at a time.

By Larry Bleiberg
January 24, 2008
Anthony John Coletti

Travelers love souvenirs. But they probably won't want akeepsake from one of Kurt Zuelsdorf's kayak trips. Kurt's company, Kayak Nature Adventures, extendsdiscounts to customers who bring back a bag of trash from tours ofClam Bayou, a Tampa Bay estuary. Kurt started the promotion in2006, hoping to clean up some of the litter clogging the naturepreserve. Less than two years later, kayakers have collected morethan 30,000 pounds of junk, including shopping carts, lawnfurniture, tires, balls, even motorcycles.

The trash can be traced to runoff from surrounding St.Petersburg and Gulfport, Florida. During storms, neighborhoodlitter flows into estuaries and collects in mangrove forests thatsupport birds, dolphins, rays, and manatees. "After a majorcleanup, I stood back and watched," Kurt says. "The herons, thecranes, and the ibises were sitting up in the treetops waiting forus to leave. The pelicans were diving. The fish were jumping. It'snothing short of a miracle to watch that happen."

But none of that makes trash collecting glamorous. And Kurt isamazed by the number of people willing to participate―so farmore than 600. Like a modern-day Tom Sawyer seeking fence painters,Kurt has no shortage of kayakers eager to pick up litter.

"I don't just give nature tours anymore," he says. "Every singletour I give now, people take a garbage bag with them." The discountis always available, but Kurt has also found sponsors for freekayaking/cleanup days. Future plans include opening a bayoueducation center.

"It's kind of like Easter egg collecting," says Kim Morwood, avolunteer who has waded into the water to drag up junk. "When yousee the results, it's so worth it."

Kayak Nature Adventures;727/418-9728 or kayaknature.com