The Protect Clearwater Beach Task Force had their first meeting on Aug 15 at Bob Heilman’s Beachcomber Restaurant on Clearwater Beach with about 40 people in attendance.

There is a national trend to stop harming sea life and the oceans. Not a political movement, anyone with good sense knows improvement is needed. Straws may be in the headlines right now but there are worse things such as; cigarette butts, fast food wrappers/cups, styrofoam, and plastic bags that can kill or maim wildlife. These products never fully break down and only chip into smaller chunks called micro-plastics over long time periods.  Fish and birds can ingest this as well and risks to humans are only now being studied. Humans do damage with plastic-based litter and humans can help fix it, sometimes with minimal cost and effort.

The task force was started to make positive changes on the beach where members live or work and where millions come to play. It is not enough to ask people not to litter or to pick up after them, restaurants and businesses of all types need to stop handing out what becomes dangerous litter. This group wants to help educate businesses on why and how to do that.

Sheri Heilman of Beachcomber Restaurant and Bobby’s Bistro and Wine Bar has been a true spearhead for the movement on Clearwater Beach.

She is motivated by her grandkids and knows people can’t keep doing things that damage. She knows that her 70-year-old family business would not survive a future with a toxic sea or a filthy beach.  Becoming the first “Ocean Friendly Certified” business in Clearwater did take time because there was no blueprint for doing it. Finding supplies that are 100% biodegradable isn’t as easy as it seems.

Sheri noted, “There are not currently regulations in place that keep some companies from making false claims”. She actually put products claiming rapid biodegradation into buckets of water out in the sun and some never came close to breaking down.  Trial and error have led them to have it pretty well worked out now. She wants to teach others and make it easier for them. Sheri made it clear, “Anyone interested in going green in their restaurant or business can stop by and ask for myself or Bobby”(her son). “We will take the time to help you. The reality is it can save a business money and do good!”

Many have joined the movement. Frank Chivas of Baystar Restaurant Group, owner of 6 local restaurants jumped on board and looked to the Heilman’s for insight.  Frank said “We’re saving money by going green, the staff has bought in 100%, it is amazing. I started with finding a great deal on biodegradable bags and when I saw how happy it made everyone, I knew we were on to something great!”  He says he keeps finding things that can be changed to be ocean-friendly. He is working on all 6 of his restaurants to implement the changes.

Others businesses on the beach are too. Clearwater Marine Aquarium was at the meeting as were folks from Tropics Boat Tours, Sandpearl Resort, and many other establishments. Sheridan Boyle from Clearwater’s Recycling Program was on hand to answer questions. Many businesses have already gone “straws by request only” and some are working to implement “Ocean Friendly Certification”.

The criteria are put in place by Suncoast Rise Above Plastics Coalition (suncoast-rap.org)  they include: 1. No Styrofoam, only recyclable or compostable takeout supplies 2. Business must recycle properly. 3. No disposable utensils accept by request for takeout items. 4. Absolutely no plastic bags for takeout or to-go orders.  5. Plastic straws and lids by request only. Preferably only paper straws. 6. No beverages sold in plastic bottles. 7. Discounts offered for bring your own cup or mug. 8. Water conservation efforts and 9. LED lighting/energy star appliances where possible, plus a few more options.

The initial goal and purpose of the group are:
Get as many restaurants and businesses as possible to go for Ocean Friendly Certification and to work towards making Clearwater Beach the #1 Ocean Friendly Beach on Earth.

How will they do that?

The group suggested coming up with a clear message to educate and then get the message out with help from other groups like the local Chambers of Commerce of which both had representatives at the meeting. The task force wants to create an easy to follow the recipe for businesses to get all the bad potential litter out of the hands of customers, styrofoam, plastic lids, plastic water bottles, straws, plastic bags, etc.

Other goals are: Bringing composting at an affordable rate to the beach, surveying tourist, municipal involvement and incentives, and coordinated regular beach cleanups.

The task force is seeking support. The next meeting is 3rd Wednesday of September at Beachcombers Restaurant. Join them if you have something to give towards the cause and the energy to give it. Join to help make Clearwater Beach the #1 most ocean-friendly beach on earth.