More than 100 volunteers from Mississippi Power and four coast casinos removed nearly two tons of debris from Deer Island at the first of several 2017 Renew Our Rivers events.
The start of the company’s annual award-winning environmental stewardship program coincided with recognition of Earth Day.
Last year, nearly 600 volunteers collected 28 tons of debris at eight clean-up events. Since the program started 12 years ago, more than 340 tons of debris have been collected from waterways across the company’s service territory.
“This is our first event, and it’s usually the biggest one of the year from a volunteer perspective,” said Courtney VanderSchaaf, the 2017 Renew Our Rivers coordinator. “It’s a great showing. We usually have a lot of fun with our casino partners. They bring music and food, and it’s a great way to kick everything off.”
Volunteers from the Beau Rivage, Golden Nugget, Harrah’s and Hard Rock participated in the event, as well as those from the Mississippi Department of Marine Resources, the Land Trust of the Mississippi Coastal Plain, Waste Pro USA, and the Harrison County Beautification Commission.
Other volunteers like Biloxi resident Rusty David took part in the cleanup. He showed up at Deer Island with his houseboat named “Camp David.” He towed a large wooden deck to the north side of the island, which served as a makeshift dumping site.
“We all have a responsibility to take part in events like these to give back to the community,” said Ann Pitre, Beau Rivage spokesperson. “The barrier islands play such an important role in our environment and our ecosystem. Personally, I enjoy looking over to the island from the casino when I’m at work. It’s a beautiful backdrop. We have to keep it clean.”
This year, Renew Our Rivers volunteers were given data sheets so they could keep a running tally of the different types of debris found on the island.
“The data sheets will help us figure out what we need to work on with our conservation efforts,” said Jennifer Frey, DMR coastal resource management specialist. “We’re collecting this information so we can target either conservation education programs or future trash cleanup events like this.”
Frey added that the Renew Our Rivers program is a perfect example of partnerships in action.
“This event Mississippi Power puts on is an immense relief for us,” Frey said. “In a year’s time, lots of trash and debris accumulates on the island from storms and the boating seasons.”
The event also served as more than a chance to give back, especially for volunteers like Golden Nugget Casino employee Nancy Healy.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been out here and seen the south side of Deer Island,” said Healy. “This cleanup is a great idea. I brought my daughter and grandson with me. It’s beautiful out here.”
While Healy’s family collected debris in one area, 10-year-old volunteer Caden Chandler stayed busy with his garbage bag and debris grabber.
“I don’t know why there’s so much trash out here, but it’s not respectful,” Chandler said as he picked up debris alongside his father. “I think it’s important to keep our environment clean.”
Chandler’s comments are what Renew Our Rivers event organizers say they love to hear.
“We want to leave Deer Island and our surrounding environment in a better place than we found it for the next generation,” VanderSchaaf added. “Some of the volunteers have worked the Deer Island cleanup since the very first year. They know the island and they know where to find trash. We’re extremely grateful for the help.”
Mississippi Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company (NYSE: SO), produces safe, reliable and environmentally responsible energy for nearly 187,000 customers in 23 southeast Mississippi counties. Mississippi Power ranked first in the Southeast Electric Exchange’s 2016 Safety Performance Reports and is consistently recognized as an industry leader in reliability, customer service and safety. Visit our websites at www.mississippipower.com and www.mississippipowernews.com, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube.