Thursday, May 5, 2016

Eco - Action Cleanup cares for Orlando's lakes while being hindered by city red tape.

I went to Eco - Action Cleanup number 845 at Lake Concord. Jef Shelby organizes this intrepid group of volunteers who use canoes to help clean up the garbage from Orlando's lakes. The Mission of ECO-Action, Inc., is to protect and preserve the natural environment by encouraging, creating, and supporting ecological education, responsible consumption, development of alternative energy sources, and public participation in addressing environmental issues.

The GPS brought me to Central Christian Church. Across the street there was a lake, but I didn't see any volunteers. Thinking I was in the wrong place, I drove up and down the street and then I drove behind the church. This is where I found the truck with a trailer full of canoes. People were already in canoes and on shore placing trash in yellow bags. By keeping the lake clean, wildlife is being protected. Fishing line in particular can strangle a bird who becomes entangled. Birds and turtles can also eat the fishing lines, which is a health hazard. On some cleanups birds have been found and turned over to the Birds of Prey Center for medical care. There is no shortage of garbage, bottles, beer cans, plastic cups, fishing line, grocery bags, cigarette butts, and even condoms. Despite the endless effort it seems that garbage is dumped faster than it ca be removed. These volunteers are true eco-warriors.

Rather than support these environmentalists, the city decided to impose restrictions and permitting. It seems politicians need to know exactly what lake is being cleaned and when. Jet ski's and power boats are fine, but having volunteers out cleaning the lakes in canoes was considered a bit too anarchistic for city officials.  Now Jef has to apply for permits and wait up to four months for approval. The added bureaucracy is causing the Good Samaritan effort to be too much trouble. Jef hopes someone else will take on the effort because he doesn't have the time for all the paper work.

Morgan Steele had volunteered to stay behind and watch the remaining canoes. He stopped over to see what I was working on. It turns out he is an artist himself. He loved that I was documenting the cleanup effort with sketches. He searched in the reeds next to me and pulled out a hypodermic needle. "Can you believe someone would shoot up behind a church." he asked. He then walked over to a shady spot under a huge live oak, sat down, and leaned back against a large cross. Jef wrote me a Facebook message a few weeks after the cleanup.  "Since Morgan Steele's passing, I've thought about some of the Jungian signs that prophesied his death - and I think of that last painting you did of Eco-Action's clean-up at Lake Concord where he was taking a rest under the cross." On April 23rd, Morgan lost control of his car while driving back from Stardust Video and Coffee. His car slammed in some concrete constructions on Bumby. A memorial will be held for him around Memorial Day. The Herculean task of cleaning Orlando's lakes lives on. More Eco Warriors are always needed to stem the tide of a wasteful consumer society.

A whistle sounded and the canoes returned. Each canoe was filled wit yellow bags full of trash. The bags were stacked in a pile and everyone lined up for a group photo. Probably 30 full bags of garbage had been removed from the lake. More remained. The most unique finds, were a laptop computer, and a three foot white sign that said, "Church Parking Ahead." If anyone had followed that sign, their cars would be found on the bottom of the lake. If you ever want to make a difference while canoeing on a central Florida lake, be sure to look up Eco -Action Cleanup.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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