INDIAN RIVER, Fla. — Dozens of spoil islands dotting Florida’s Indian River Lagoon play host to visitors throughout the year who kayak, picnic, fish — and also poop on the island’s soil.
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection said the islands, which are home to some of Florida’s most treasured wildlife, from dolphins to pelicans, are being littered with human waste, and it has to stop.
“There is a major problem on the spoil islands with improper disposal of human waste,” said Emily Dark, environmental specialist for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Dark said the islands are made up of sand and limestone, and they lack the proper soil to effectively break down human waste. Because it won’t decompose as it would if buried in richer soils, the waste can create a serious health hazard on the islands’ shores.
“This creates an even bigger problem when it rains and seeps into the lagoon,” Dark said.
Well, what areyou supposed to do when nature calls?
The answer requires a little planning.
There are no trash cans or bathrooms on any of the spoil islands. So, everything you bring ashore, you must also be prepared to take with you.
For human waste, Dark says people should bring landfill-approved human-waste bags or a portable toilet.
The bags are sometimes called “WAG bags.” WAG stands for waste alleviation and gelling, describing the technology, not unlike cat litter, that breaks down the waste and helps neutralize the smell.
Bag dispensers were installed on six islands in the lagoon.
The bags can also be purchased online or from various retailers, including some marinas in the region.
The lagoon was designated a “Hot Spot” by Leave No Trace, an international organization with a mission to protect the environment by teaching people how to enjoy the outdoors responsibly, in both 2017 and 2018. About 20 areas are chosen annually that suffer from severe impacts of outdoor activities, but have the potential to thrive again.
With the designation, Leave No Trace launched a campaign to spread awareness in the lagoon, hosting spoil island clean-up days and providing workshops and training.
They calculate 300 pounds of trash was removed, more than 1,000 people were trained and volunteers performed 101 hours of work during the 2018 campaign.
Dark said they’ve seen evidence of illegally cutting mangroves for firewood, littering and widening camping areas, in addition to the problems with human waste.
“On many of the spoil islands, we often see litter such as cigarette butts, food scraps, beverage cans/bottles, plastic items, fishing line and abandoned camping gear,” Dark said. “This trash not only creates dirty and undesirable conditions on the islands, but also winds up in our lagoon and can potentially be unsafe for wildlife.”
Tips to ‘leave no trace’:
- Do not leave any trash on the islands. This includes food scraps, which can be taken home for proper composting.
- Use existing trails, campsites and boat launches and avoid trampling on vegetation.
- Never touch, feed or harass wildlife. Don’t let your pets, kids or friends do so either.
- Do not remove plants, shells, rocks or other natural resources. Take pictures instead.
- Keep fires small and contained to the established rings. Bring your own wood.
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