Julie Gorham / Citrus Chronicle
More than 70 teens from various summer camps plunged into local waters Friday. Students from the Marine Science Station Coastal Camp, YMCA summer camp and Robert Halleen Boys and Girls Club boated and bussed to Hunter Springs Park in Crystal River to remove unsightly Lyngbya algae.
Also pitching in were a few volunteers with the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service’s Youth Conservation Corps.
All were led by Art Jones, director of Crystal River Rotary Club’s One Rake at a Time program. As students signed up, volunteers with Crystal River Rotary Club provided the youths with rakes, kayaks and pitchforks.
“We are here to teach about Lyngbya, and how removing it makes a positive difference,” Jones said about the cleanup initiative.
Jones, founder of One Rake at a Time, said he typically plans more than 30 cleanups a year, but this year — with larger groups involved — they’ve cut down to roughly a dozen cleanups.
“Everything helps,” Jones said. “The vast concept with One Rake at a Time is that each rake of Lyngbya you take out heals the bay. You are removing pollution and noxious nutrients in small amounts. It is getting better and better rather than worse.”
Jones expected to remove around 3 to 4 tons of Lyngbya in a few hours with the help of the teens, like rising seventh-grader Michaela Flake and cohort Miranda Cassidy, who are Marine Science Station Coastal Camp participants.
“I’m excited. I know my parents want me to make a difference,” Flake said. “I’ve always wanted to do this, but I’ve never had time. I even plan on doing this again.”
Thirty Coastal Camp participants arrived by boat, led by Marine Science Station Director Earnie Olsen, who teaches campers about marine ecosystems and related topics. For the middle school-age campers, the cleanup was the culmination to the weeklong summer camp.
“It’s been a great week even though we have had a lot of rain, showers and thunderstorms,” Olsen said. “We won’t complain about the rain — they are learning about the water cycle in a real-world fashion.”
To prepare for the event, Olsen said, he told the students about the history of Lyngbya dating back to the 1950s right up to what is being done by community groups like One Rake at a Time and Save Crystal River Inc.
“Together they have leveraged community resources including private and public partnerships with the state to get the funding they need to get a lot of this cleaned up,” Olsen said. “It’s only one tool in the toolbox. We can come out here every single day, but if we don’t get a handle on the nutrients getting into our waterways then we have to continue coming out here.”