Making and maintaining reef balls in the bay may seem like a lot
of work, but for the "Reef Rakers," it's just taking care of what
they already started.
"I think it's pretty cool," said 11-year-old Meagan Keeley, a
sixth-grader at Harllee Middle School who has been involved in the
Reef Rakers since its beginning.
The Harllee Middle students' dedication to their reef project won
them a $10,000 environmental award, which they will pick up Friday
in San Diego.
The Reef Rakers began as an after-school program called "Science
is Cool after School," started by sixth-grade science teacher Rick
Smith. Last year, students built round concrete reefs and dropped
them into the bay and Gulf waters to attract marine life and improve
the water quality. It also helped them study science outside of the
classroom, said Smith.
"The kids are doing a real hands-on science program," he
With the reef balls deployed in the water, the students focused
their energy on other environmental projects - at least until a
recent viewing of film footage of their dirty reef shot for Manatee
It was then the Harllee students realized there was more work to
be done than just dumping the balls into the water, and the Reef
Rakers were born. They developed a diving program and last month
were certified to dive up to 60 feet. They made their first dive
Saturday to the reef they created.
It was a dream come true for the students, said Harllee teacher
and Reef Rakers co-facilitator Cheryl Hughes.
"For them to have this kind of experience is absolutely amazing,"
The diving experience was made possible through a partnership
with the Manateens and the Boys & Girls Clubs and $17,000
donated by local agencies.
"If I didn't have the support I had, I would never be able to do
this," said Keeley, who was nervously waiting to dive. "It gives
kids an experience they will never get in their life."
A caravan of nine boats carried the Reef Rakers and other
volunteers 3 miles off Coquina Beach.
Once offshore, they divided into teams of two or three divers and
spent at least an hour plucking fishing line, anchors and whatever
else they could find from the reef balls. Once they returned, LaRoza
said, the Harllee students planned to study what they found and
explore why it keeps ending up on the reefs.
Hughes said it has been more than just a school project to help
the environment around them.
"It's empowering to see the kids taking something from the
classroom into the real world," she said.
Volunteers gather to clean up
Cigarettes, cans - even a toilet - were
The consensus was that someone must have had a party here.
Volunteers pulled one beer can after another - along with beer
cartons and packages - from mangroves on Coquina Beach during a
countywide cleanup Saturday, an event that brought together
thousands of people to pick up trash along streets, roads and
Three other cleanups were held around Manatee County in
On streets on Anna Maria Island, a group found that 30 percent of
their 130 pounds of trash were cigarettes, said Ingrid McClellan,
director of Keep Manatee Beautiful. Cigarette litter represents more
than 20 percent of the litter collected in the community cleanups,
according to officials of the Keep American Beautiful Great American
"That's pretty significant," she said.
At the Terra Ceia Bay Estuary, which was noted as one of the
dirtiest sites in the county, five volunteers from the Wildlife
Rescue Service collected 3,420 pounds of litter, McClellan said. On
Ninth Street West, a family said the main piece of litter they
collected was empty phone card packaging.
Elsewhere in the county, one group found a refrigerator. Another
group discovered a toilet dumped along 26th Court East in Bradenton.
The street, being cleaned by a family of volunteers, was said to be
"They (the volunteers) said it looked like it hadn't been cleaned
in years," said McClellan.
The weight of all the garbage collected won't be tallied until
later this week, she