Sunday, January 27, 2019

1st Trees4Trash Cleanup on Cape Fear Dr. Burgaw, NC

Hurricane Florence made landfall on 9/14/18 along the NC coast, a direct hit in Wilmington, NC, where Plastic Ocean Project was founded. Here where we have been so fortunate to conduct research at UNCW with extremely talented scientists like Pamela Seaton, PhD. Ralph Mead, PhD., Alyson Taylor, PhD., and Brooks Avery, PhD. to name a few. Here where we work along side other dynamic nonprofits like Cape Fear Surfrider, Cape Fear River Watch, and Cape Fear Sierra Club. Here where students from K-12 on up to master students, community members, and business owners, help relieve some of the pressure on the planet due to plastic waste. Here marks the entry point of Flo where she brought up to 140 mph winds and 3 feet of rain. The Cape Fear River swelled up and out consuming sections of I-40 and other major roads, laying captive to the people trapped by the mote surrounding the New Hanover community. That part of the story, the news reported daily. The water receded and so did the press. What we were left with was a destroyed science building, Dobo Hall, where we conducted our research, thousands of trees, especially our hardwood centuries old, and devastated communities.

Communities, like Pender County, lacking the resources to remove debris turned into a legislative battle. Many of the residents were just recovering from Hurricane Andrew (one family had just moved back into the house two weeks prior) before Hurricane Flo filled the walls with river water tainted with human and animal excrement, up to the roof. There the water sat, in some cases, for weeks. Windows and doors broke open from the weight and surge of the water forcing belongings out of orifices and into nature.

Rumors of the area trashed by personal belongings, not intended to be forfeited, pricked the ears of Plastic Ocean Project and we decided to go have a look for ourselves. 

What we found in this area was not trash but actual peoples lives strewn about in and under the trees and lining many of the roads in ditches. One member of the community said children would cry seeing their beds and toys on the side of the road.  Because it has taken so long to remove the debris, everyday has been a constant reminder of what was lost 4 months ago. Seeing the devastation made it difficult for us to feel sorry for our own loss of lab space and thousands of dollars in research samples that could no longer be used.

For weeks we watched FEMA remove our beloved tree canopy that had fallen like soldiers due to our already saturated soil before the storm. The 140 knot winds made them an easy target. Wilmington, "The City of Trees" lost thousands of trees. We decided to combine the two issues. For every 25 lbs. of trash removed, we commit to planting 1 hardwood tree. As the saying goes, "Someone is sitting under a shady tree today because someone planted it many years ago." We hope to create a clean, shady place for the next generation to enjoy.

Anna Edmundson, Raleigh
Saturday, 1/26/19, was our first Trees4Trash Cleanup where we removed 3050.5 lbs of lost debris left behind after the community won their battle to have the large debris removed from the corner of Highway 53 and Cape Fear Drive, Burgaw. To look out over the area, one could see shiny objects peering out from the dried muddy soil that was a grassy field not long ago. A place where the locals would see animals prancing about.

We rented a 15 passinger van for UNCW students volunteers to take the 30 minute drive up, work 3 hours, then back. We were met by a caravan of cars lined up along Cape Fear Drive. Linda Edmundson and daughter drove down from Raleigh, NC, Maddy Arena, a high school student from Carteret County drove the hour to get there and Bev Lawrence and Jim Rineholt from Florida visiting in the area were there too. The Hammers Family, Karl, Angel, and Amanda, Cordelia Norris, Guilianna Martinelli, Kelsey Kelly from Extended Range Diving Services, and Harvey Tate all donned reusable gloves and reusable bags and quietly went to work in the debris field. They recovered things like keys, Good Luck coins, CDs, photos, toys, clothes, kitchen utensils, vintage baseball cards, and vases. Items that meant something to someone, not like the single use trash that we usually clean up. Our hearts broke a little when one of the volunteers brought a baby shoe to our table where we would put special items. Folks that lived on the road stopped to thank us, others grabbed their buckets and joined us. The owner of the property shared the story of how the location became a huge dump sight because the county would not be picking up on private roads, he offered his property close to the highway for the neighbors to put the destroyed items close to the road so FEMA would pick them up. But then came those who were paid to dispose of the debris in other neighborhoods who began dumping, and some tree removal outfits did the same, and the several acre area became a major dump site.

Roger Hamrick, Angel and Amanda Hammers

Caili Casadei UNCW
Darren Cannan who lived on the road asked what we were going to do with all the debris. Not truly prepared for the mass quantity of debris that laid before our eyes, we planned on coming back with a small trailer but soon realized we would need several. Before we knew it, he was gone and then back again with his flat bed trailer. "I can take one load, but we only have 10 minutes to get it to the site." Darren offered. We hurriedly filled the trailer and off he went.

We continued our assembly line of 30+ volunteers bringing filled bags weighing 10 to 50 lbs., while Tricia Monteleone and I took turns recording and weighing bags, then the debris would be handed off to another group who would transport the debris into garbage bags, and move it to the side. Darren came barreling back and said, "I can take one more." We loaded up his trailer again and off he went. More black bags piled up when he came back again. But this time he had another offer. "If you all are hungry, the Friendly Food Project at the end of the road said they would feed you. They knew you were coming and cooked extra." For real this happened. We finished up as fast as we could, piled into the van and found ourselves at a neighbor's house where Natalie Johnston, manager of Friendly Food Project, provided vittles. She cooks for this community free of charge several times a week. The food was incredible and so were the neighbors. Patti Cannan, Darren's wife, was one of the neighbors who joined the cleanup effort and as neighbors drove by she'd encourage them to "grab your buckets and come on!"

She hugged several of us and thanked us for caring enough to come out. "That location is a constant reminder of the pain we suffered in this community. It looks so much better."
Natalie Johnston, manager of Friendly Food Project
Phil and Lisa Barnes helped with the cleanup too, filling their tarp several times and moving it to the table for it to be bagged. After we ate, they brought us over to their home and showed us the water line on the second floor of their house. We then went down to their deck that faces the river and we could see with our own eyes how the river had to rise over 30 feet to find its way into the second floor of their home.

Patti and Darren Cannan loading up their trailer with debris
We soon got back on our way to finish packing up our supplies, weighing and tying up the rest of the bags when here comes Patti and Darren with their flat bed trailer. "We can take one more." We filled it up and off they went. We looked around and realized there was still a lot to grab. Chip Jackson gave me that look, when he said, "So you need a truck." We both looked at his truck and then back at each other, "I cleaned it out on the off chance." His pre-teen daughter Torie helped fill up his truck and we headed back to Wilmington where we disposed of it properly.

As the t-shirt Reads -Seahawk Strong!

Thank you UNCW Plastic Ocean Project students Noelle Minch, Shelby Cobb, Zachery Tyson, Kenna Robinson, Ceili Casadei, Claire Bachman, RAH, and especially President, Eric Dzenis, for donating your entire day to be a HUGE part of this project. Big POP is stronger with the awesome sauceness of UNCW POP. (Sorry if I missed any of you.)


  1. That seems to have been a wonderful project. And what a fantastic report, about the Cape Fear regional community coming together to recover & rebuild after a flood the likes of which used to come around only once a millennium.
    To survive the next 50 years, we will all need to help one another like that a whole lot. POP is showing us the way!

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