Written by Bob Gabordi, Florida Today Photos by Bob Gabordi and Malcolm Denemark
Admittedly, news judgment is an imprecise business, kind of like judging the beauty of art or the worth of sports memorabilia.
My Mookie Wilson signed baseball means more to me than your Mickey Mantle – that sort of thing.
But after more than 36 years of making such judgments, I have strong views on what is – and isn’t – newsworthy, generally speaking.
These days, though, the judgment of one person – even the executive editor – isn’t enough. That’s why I’m getting out into the community, meeting as many people as possible, and listening to what they have to say.
And that led me directly to a young man and his mother Saturday morning at Pelican Beach, where I learned a thing or two about something important – and something that should get my attention.
My wife, Donna, and I were out early Saturday for a Keep Brevard Beautiful clean-up event. We picked Pelican Beach from the list of options on the Facebook page. We had never done anything like this before.
We were greeted by Kathleen Shoda and her son, Ethan, 12, both in KBB shirts. Kathleen explained that Ethan was the site coordinator and she was there just to help him. They live in Satellite Beach.
Good enough. We got our bucket, gloves and – after Ethan explained the drill – got to work. We were ready. Or were we?
I was surprised by the number of people who stopped to thank us, including a couple of men carrying surfboards and headed to the waves. That was nice.
I was shocked by the number of cigarette butts in the sand, along the walkways and near the trash receptacles. That was not so nice.
Were they always there and I just didn’t notice them before? Who would think it’s OK to leave their nasty cigarette butts on the shore?
I wondered what Ethan would have to say about this.
An hour-and-a-half later, we were back at the check-in area. I explained to Kathleen and Ethan what I do for a living and asked if I could speak to them for something I might write.
Turns out, Ethan has been doing these cleanups for three years. I presume Kathleen has been doing the same for at least as long. I asked him what motivates him to get up so early on a weekend morning.
“Creating awareness,” he said. “It’s not just the beach cleanup. It helps to cause awareness so that when people go to the beach after helping, they will have better awareness to keep the beaches clean and healthy.”
Pretty insightful for 12 years old, I thought. But the kid was just getting started.
People need to know that one little thing – like plastic or cigarette butts, he explained – can kill fish, birds or other animals because of how toxic they are.
To be honest, I never thought about that.
I just thought they were disgusting and I don’t like setting my blanket down or digging my feet into the sand and rubbing against someone’s old smoke. I don’t like the idea of bringing my 16-month-old grandson to play in the sand and having him pick up a cigarette butt. Sure, you’re always watching everything they do anyway, but that’s not the point.
I decided to check Ethan’s information about the toxicity on the Internet. He’s right, of course. And I learned that some believe trillions – a number I can’t even comprehend – of butts are thrown onto the ground each year and that billions of them work their way to our beaches and lakes.
So my 90 minutes on the beach is a little like whistling into the wind – you know you are doing something, but you are not sure it’s worth the effort – until you think about what Ethan said. He increased my awareness and I learned something important about Brevard County.
And now maybe your awareness is heightened a bit and maybe you will join us next time for a little early morning walk on the beach to help clean it up. Even better, next time you see someone throw their butt onto the ground you might ask them to pick it up.
Pretty good work by a young man at the beach.
Bob Gabordi is executive editor at Florida Today. His direct dial number is 321-242-3607 and cell phone is 850-591-2229. He is @bgabordi on Twitter and /bgabordi on Facebook. You can also find him on LinkedIn. His email address firstname.lastname@example.org