Saturday, February 24, 2018 marked the twenty-third running of the Billy Sandifer Big Shell Beach Cleanup – biggest and best in a long string of success stories.
“The 2017 event drew an impressive 20% growth in participation and we topped that number by an additional 30% this year,” Billy Sandifer reported. Sandifer went on to say the 2018 event drew some 1200 volunteers showing up to clean an impressive 22.5 miles of Padre Island National Seashore beaches – both are new Big Shell records.
The “haul” totaled more than 85 tons, second highest for the event. All manner of debris that had washed ashore; including the rescue of a very weak stranded sea turtle and a kilo of cocaine. More than 20 tons of plastic was sent for recycling.
Any event of this size faces complexity in organization and execution, Mother Nature notwithstanding. Heavy fog blanketed North Padre Island as volunteers began to arrive at the Malaquite Pavilion parking area and receive assignment to Section Teams and collect supplies for the workday ahead.
“On and on came the volunteers – a seeming never-ending line of vehicle headlights – as far as we could see in the haze and mist,” according to Sandifer. “We were very concerned with the high tides and soft sand complicating beach driving.”
Never able to work below the 30-Mile Marker in prior events, event planners had originally hoped to target the area lying between the 20-Mile and 40-Mile, during the 2018 cleanup. However, last minute communication via satellite phone from Sean Curless and his hardy band of cleanup volunteers who were encamped at the 40-Mile (planning to anchor the southern end of the target region and work their way north) called for a quick change of plans. Attempting to transport workers and haul out trash from the beach below the 30-Mile would be impossible, due to the soft sand conditions. And Sean’s advice was accurate, the trash they collected and bagged at the 40-Mile could not be hauled out until later in the week, when driving conditions improved.
“We immediately changed our plans and decided to begin at the 30-Mile beach and work north,” Sandifer said.“LOTS of moving parts and lots going on in that parking lot as we scrambled to reorganize the event. Jeff Wolda was realigning Section Leaders and reassigning teams; everybody was throwing questions at him. Over and over I heard him say…’Don’t worry; we’ll get ‘er done. Just a little change of plans, folks.’”
Jeff’s, “Get ‘er done,” became the battle cry of the event throughout the day. When pulling up to a work group and asking how they were doing, section leaders and volunteers would yell in unison, “We’re gettin’ ‘er done!”
Sandifer also said, “The spirit and camaraderie of the volunteers were overwhelming, and I’ve noticed another very positive thing these past few years. We’ve always had some amount of participation from local schools, but I see more and more kids coming out with their families and in small groups and they aren’t messing around – these kids are really pitching in and getting the job done. What a wonderful and encouraging thing to see. These kids truly are the future of conservation and coastal fishing and it gives me a great feeling.”
The Big Shell Cleanup is not possible without wonderful sponsors and we certainly thank God for ours: Ruth Parr Sparks Foundation, Sharkathon, Stephen and Donna Gregory, CCA-TX, Texas State Aquarium, Trac-work Inc., Domino’s Pizza, Brian McKinsey, Federal Steel, Aug Art & Design, HEB, The Bait Bucket, Gambler Specialties, Graf Plumbing, Enbridge, Smart Shield, 1360 News Radio, KIII-3 News Radio, Padre Island Moon, Coastal Bend Audubon Society, Corpusfishing.com., Texas Saltwater Fishing Magazine, Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Saltwater Angler, and Padre Island National Seashore staff and employees.
“A very sincere thank you to all who helped make this event a great success. And don’t worry too much about us not getting down to the 40-Mile. There’s always next year and, who knows…with your help we just might “Get ‘Er Done.” – Billy Sandifer