As the stomping ground of weekend activity for vacationers and natives alike, Jax Beach collects the garbage of thousands of people each day. The trash ranges from plastic bags to cigarette butts, remnants of a good time and a threat to ocean life just mere yards away.

Last Saturday was no exception, as Hurricane Gonzalo pumped glassy waves for eager surfers and the mellow weather coaxed everyone from their couches to the sand. While everyone enjoyed weekend festivities as usual, a dozen of dedicated UNF students pitched tents and handed out buckets to volunteers eager to pick up trash from the sand.

Allison Shirley gives a young volunteer a high-five for participating

Led by Allison Shirley, a senior at UNF, 15 students from a sport marketing class headed a beach cleanup, offering prizes to participants. The students promoted the event by collecting sponsors and raffling off chances to win a brand new beach cruiser. Gift cards, t-shirts, hats and other prizes scattered the setup as rewards from sponsors.

“I would always love going to local beach cleanups. Then one day I got really sick of picking up tiny pieces of plastic and cigarette butts off my court when I was playing beach volleyball at the pier, so I decided I wanted to put on my own,” Shirley said. “My first event was with the UNF sand volleyball team three years ago with about 30 volunteers. Now, three years and eight cleanups later, I have teamed up with 25 sponsors and had 200 participants.”

Kyle Donoher, one of the students responsible for the marketing and promoting of the event, said it was easy to get sponsors to donate. It was a project Donoher picked because of his conviction to keep his environment clean.

“I’m environmentally friendly. If I see trash, I pick it up. I don’t like to leave my carbon print on the planet,” Donoher said.

In three hours, Shirley said that over 19,493 cigarette butts had been collected on top of several pounds of trash. Shirley created competitions to give incentive to volunteers to collect more trash. Those collecting the most cigarette butts won anything from sunglasses to Jaguar tickets. Shirley rewarded some participants simply for their dedication and effort.

Shirley said that despite her busy schedule, she wants to grow her events and continue them in the future. This winter, she wants to educate kids in elementary and middle school about trash and how it biodegrades.

“We are extremely lucky to live in such a beautiful place and it is so important for everyone to love and respect our beach by doing their part in keeping it clean,” Shirley said.