On April 9, a group of dedicated professors, students and community members will meet again for their third cleanup of the Bouie River.
Mike Goldman, a founder of the cleanup and an alumnus of The University of Southern Mississippi, said he picked the Bouie River for several reasons. He is familiar with it because of his many paddling adventures and its proximity.
Goldman said the river is a great local resource that needs more attention. He has helped with several cleanups on the Black Creek and the Leaf River.
Goldman believes no organization has focused on the Bouie River.
“I have had this in mind for a few years, but we started planning last summer and completed two cleanups on the Bouie River last fall,” Goldman said.
These cleanup efforts were held in August and November 2015. Each cleanup focused on a specific section of the river.
Goldman said USM geography professor Joby Bass has extensive knowledge on the river system and contributed greatly to logistic and organizational matters. He said USM Office of Sustainability manage Leslee Potvin Davenport, who owns of Hub City Recycling, has been instrumental in disposal of trash collected in the cleanups.
Davenport said the Keep Hattiesburg Beautiful Commission is providing supplies for the cleanup events which includes trash bags, gloves and grabbers for each volunteer.
Davenport said “[Cleanups help] maintain the natural beauty of the river, provides a clean and safe environment for fish and wildlife, and it’s also a great opportunity for community members to get involved in outdoor activities.”
Bass said they predominantly find drink containers, mostly plastic and Styrofoam. There are also beer cans and bottles, the occasional tire, and plenty of floating toys that have been abandoned or washed away in high water.
“The worst are the dirty diapers,” Bass said. “It is surprising how many people leave dirty diapers on sand bars and boat ramps.”
According to Goldman, pollution found its way to the Bouie River via flooding and other factors. This will only change through education and awareness, which is one of the main goals of the cleanups.
Goldman feels that the these cleanups are important due to the fact that water is one of the most significant resources for life.
“It provides a better environment for commerce, play [and] sustainability,” Goldman said. “I want to ensure that my child and all future generations have access to clean water for the aforementioned reasons.”
He said this means clean water and banks so fish can swim without trash floating in their environment. It will also prevent any further pollution flowing downstream and possibly into the Gulf of Mexico.
Assistant professor of geography Grant Harley said the cleanups are important and that they help undo the damage done by people who pollute the waters around Hattiesburg.
“Our drinking water comes from groundwater and river water, so removing trash and chemicals from bodies of water, such as the Bouie River, will help improve our lives in small ways,” Harley said.
According to Harley, the main problem seen in the rivers around the area is an influx of trash such as plastics, chemical barrels and tires. These things take thousands to millions of years to decompose.
Pollution also causes health problems in the ecosystem’s animals, and this is bad for resources of food and water.
“We’re not just dealing with unsightly garbage in a river,” Harley said. “We’re dealing with garbage that’s made of plastics and chemicals that leech pollution into our drinking water, and that’s a big deal.”
Harley said this is also important for the USM students who have volunteered with these cleanups.
“In terms of a degree or job, the experience gained by helping with cleanups translates down to actual on-the-job experience that many of the students will get upon graduation,” Harley said.
Bass said the cleanups can be an eye-opening experience to students because they get to see extensive amounts of trash pulled out of small stretches of river.
“You also get to meet cool people and have a fun float trip,” Bass said. “Some students also conduct research in these kinds of places, so they get potentially something extra out of it.”
Bass said organizers hope their efforts help engage the surrounding communities and improve their quality of life.
“A clean environment makes people happy,” he said. “Not having litter and other pollution in rivers makes for a nice place to live and experience life and nature.”
He said ideally they would like to form a statewide group connected together to further develop these cleanups.
Davenport said cleanups could be expanded to waterways beyond the Bouie River.
“There are several beautiful creeks and rivers in the Hattiesburg area including the Okatoma River, Leaf River, Black Creek, and Red Creek,” Davenport said. “They all could use our attention.”
Volunteers are welcome to join at any time. For more information on how to get connected with these cleanups, contact Goldman at firstname.lastname@example.org