Volunteers step forward to help protect, clean up Florida Keys coast

KEY WEST, Fla. — With the Gulf of Mexico's massive oil spill now in an ocean current that could bring it to Florida's East Coast, 74-year-old Bobby Kieber felt it was time to act.

On Wednesday he went to Florida Keys Community College and plunked down $575 for a class to get him certified on how to do a coastal cleanup.

"I've lived here for 50 years and I make a living off the water," said Kieber, who makes his living sailing yachts between the Keys and the Caribbean. "We're all doing what we can to stop this. When they need me, I'll be ready."

Kieber was one of about 30 Keys residents who began the three-day Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response course to achieve a technician level — a standard set by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA.

There are other ways to contribute as well, and for free, environmentalists say.


Volunteers can get trained on the spot and help clean up Sunshine State shorelines. The idea is to clear the shores of ordinary debris that can become hazardous once the oil hits it.

All training emphasizes that volunteers don't touch hazardous waste — and tar balls are hazardous material — but instead alert hazmat teams to handle it.

"Preemptively removing artificial debris from the shoreline of the preserve will reduce potential impacts from oil, and it is good for the environment in any event," the Nature Conservancy of Florida said in a statement.


For those who want to help just for a day, with training on the spot, The Nature Conservancy has put out a call for volunteers with kayaks and canoes to help clean up Little Torch Key from 8:30 a.m. to noon Saturday.


Meantime, the nonprofit Green Living Energy Education has divided up the Keys into a Coast Watch map that offers a grid at where trained volunteers can pick a portion of beach to clean, plus a coastal cleanup checklist and other critical information.

The spill scare has put a spotlight on the grass-roots effort to protect the Keys, said Dan Robey, a Key Largo author and environmental activist who created the site to mobilize local volunteers.


"People have adopted shores from the Upper Keys down to Key West," he said, noting: "It's taken off way beyond what we've expected."

About 500 people volunteered Tuesday, the day the tar ball discovery was publicized. In all, he said, 2,000 have volunteered.

Hundreds of the volunteers include boat owners with large vessels that could be used to help lay booms or send out skimmers in the event that a slick of oil makes it down to the Keys, he said.

But before boat owners can take on such work, they have to receive certification in a hazardous materials course.


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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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