Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Seth Johnson
This post originally appeared on Coast Guard Heartland.
Three years ago in the spring, Petty Officer 1st Class Zane Galbert was doing what he loves to do – cruising through the Louisiana bayou on his kayak and taking in the sights and sounds of nature. It was early enough in the year for the weeds and plants to be minimal and cool enough for the alligators and bugs not to bite and leave a kayaker alone; though one thing did bug Galbert – trash. And lots of it.
As Galbert’s paddle cut through the murky bayou waters, he saw trash building up in the area he went for his own peace and quiet. He did what people do when they want to change something. He took action and set up a date to head out.
“What I thought was going to be a three hour job, it was a little overwhelming for just one person and ended up taking me nine hours,” said Galbert, a Coast Guard storekeeper stationed in Gulfport, Miss. “I decided I’d do it again the following year, but this time I invited my cousin and a friend, which took us about four hours.”
Goodwill gestures have a funny way of growing sometimes, and what one person does on a lark can resonate and inspire people around them, bring them together and positively affect a change. Galbert could have been content with picking some junk up with a couple friends, though that wasn’t good enough for him.
“I’m a homeowner in Slidell and I went to a homeowner’s meeting,” said Galbert. “I told them about the bayou, keeping the area clean and I told them about what I had done. A lady there had someone she said I need to talk to get this taken care of by the city. She gave me the number to the executive director of Keep Slidell Beautiful, Bill Mauser.”
Once again, Galbert wasn’t content passing the job off onto another person – he kept momentum going and worked with Mauser to organize an even larger event.
“We sat down, came up with a game plan and came up with contacts for local newspapers, who we told our story to. A local newspaper did a story on us and we told them we were going out [March 28th]. We told them we were looking for volunteers who took pride in their community,” he said.
Galbert said this year’s cleanup was a surprise and surpassed the reaction he thought they’d get.
“I was like, ‘Wow. This is really happening?’ People are willing to show up on their Saturday morning to gather trash. Words can’t really describe how I felt, but as people showed up I felt even more awesome with every new arrival,” he said.
The staging for the event took place in Heritage Park in Slidell. Members of the public, community, local authorities, Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary all came together with a myriad of watercraft, canoes kayaks and motorboats.
“As soon as everyone was there I introduced myself and thanked them for taking time out of their Saturday and told them what we were here to do,” said Galbert. “I told them lets go out and do great things and try to get as much as we can. I introduced everyone to the Coast Guard Auxiliary, who was there providing boating patrols to slow down traffic in the area to reduce wakes so no one capsized.”
Over thirty people went out and cleaned up while volunteers cooked a barbecue for attendees back on shore. When Galbert returned, he was curious how much trash was picked up and asked a volunteer.
“Whenever I got back, they told me they picked up everything from chairs, to glass and bottles and even a kitchen sink,” Galbert said. “I thought they were joking, but sure enough, someone on a pontoon boat actually picked up a kitchen sink. People found empty pill bottles, sports balls, Styrofoam plates and cups, anything that wasn’t biodegradable.”
Galbert estimates that altogether they picked up nearly a ton of trash.
“It was well over fifty bags of trash,” said Galbert. “We plan to do it again next year and we already have plans to make it bigger and better and cover more ground than we did this year.”