TAMPA – When you see a piece of trash on the sidewalk or on the road, do you ever stop to think about where it will ultimately wind up?
For trash left in the streets in and around Ybor City, most of it usually makes its way through various storm drains, before flowing into nearby McKay Bay and ultimately Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.
"A lot of people don’t really think about how one action affects so many different things," said Christina Arenas, the environmental program manager with the non-profit Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful.
"We’ve been focusing on preserving McKay Bay for the last few years, so we were wondering how to prevent the trash from flowing in constantly."
The solution: a watergoat.
It's not an animal, but a simple system of buoys and netting designed to catch the trash before it flows any further. It's set up in the water adjacent to the McKay Bay Nature Park.
"When you look at it, it's a very simple device," said Deb Evenson, Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful's Executive Director.
The watergoat is the brainchild of Mark Maksimowicz of St. Pete, who says he was alarmed by the amount of trash pouring into the bay with each rain event.
He's happy to see a group like Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful recognize the dangers, he said.
"The watergoat works while providing education and valuable—and sometimes embarrassing—data," Maksimowicz said.
Maksimowicz sells the device for about $3,000 to local non-profits, which use grant money to purchase it. He said the watergoats are always provided at "material cost," but in some cases are given for free.
Because it collects trash on the surface, Maksimowicz said it still allows the wildlife to move freely through the water underneath. The system is also designed with an automatic release in the case of severe weather or a larger animal being caught in it.
Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful purchased its watergoat for McKay Bay in May.
In five months, volunteers have emptied more than 1,680 pounds of trash collected from the device.
"It has definitely stopped the degradation of the bay," Arenas said. "And we have reduced the amount of manpower that has to go out there now that we have this device doing the work for us.”
Watergoats have also been deployed in Pinellas County and in dozens of other areas across the state, according to Maksimowicz.
"The more trash that is collected in these devices is less opportunity on land for an animal to get entangled, so fish don’t gobble plastic bags," Evenson said.
"We've got to take care of our waterways because eventually it gets out into the ocean and we have to stop it before it gets there."
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