Austin Families in Nature has adopted a section of Shoal Creek. It is a large section adjacent to 2 hospitals, 1 medical building, and a grocery store, and it will be a challenge to keep clean. We chose this spot because it is on the walking path to 2 elementary schools, an outdoor classroom, and 2 hospitals. Many, many people walk it every day.
Shoal Creek runs fast when it rains and everything in or near it is quickly carried down to Lady Bird Lake. When we went kayaking on the lake this fall during the drought (little water flow compared to normal years), we saw trash all over the water.
Last spring, we camped in Galveston and cleaned up trash on the beach. Knowing that the water flows from Shoal Creek straight into Lady Bird Lake and then down the Colorado River into the Gulf of Mexico, the kids in AFiN want to work to keep the trash from making this journey and endangering wildlife and polluting the environment all along the way.
By adopting a section of the creek, we have committed to doing at least 4 clean ups per year for 2 years. Keep Austin Beautiful helped us out by providing trash bags, grabbers, and garbage collection for the clean up. On our first clean up in February, 41 people cleaned for 2 hours and there was still more to do.
We started the clean up with a short lesson on water quality with materials provided by Keep Austin Beautiful. The kids used nets, dippers, tubes, and tweezers to carefully collect (and later release) small living things from the water in the creek. We then used KAB cards to identify what few creatures they found.
The health of the creek ecosystem can be measured by what is living in the water. We found very few living things in the section of the creek we were studying. This could be because the water quality was low, because the drought has drastically reduced water flow, or because it had recently frozen. It would be interesting to do the activity again next fall and see if what results we get.
After a lesson on water quality, the whole group worked hard to clean the creek. KAB and Whole Earth Provision Company provided a prize for the most interesting item found on the creek. In our group, the winner was a full sized film x-ray.
There were also car parts, a hose, landscaping fabric, and lots of rubber gloves and cigarette cartons (from the hospital parking lot). The most plentiful thing we found, which accounted for well over half of the trash we collected, was plastic grocery sacks. They were rolling along the ground, washed up on the edges of the creek, and stuck high up in the trees. If not cleaned up, plastic bags wash down river and are easily mistaken for delicious jellyfish by sea turtles, dolphins and other marine life. The plastic fills their bellies and starves the animals because it can not be digested or passed. Many birds and marine animals die every day from ingesting plastic trash.
Upon seeing how much of the trash we collected was made up of plastic bags, our whole group was relieved that only 2 days later the city of Austin instituted a ban on single use plastic bags. The bag ban may be one of the most beneficial and far-reaching things our city could possibly do for wildlife and the environment. It will be very interesting to see what we find next time we clean the creek, months after the bag ban has taken effect.