New Boat the “Litter Skimmer” to Clean Up Tampa Bay

By Isabella Troia 

As a part of the City of Tampa’s “Keep It Clean, Tampa” anti-litter campaign, a trash cleaning boat was unveiled to operate in the Hillsborough River, Davis Islands, and Tampa Bay. 

On July 9, at Marjorie Park Marina, the boat named Litter Skimmer was launched and started its mission to rid Tampa waterways of floating litter. The boat is operated by the Solid Waste Department and runs 8 hours a day, four days a week. It runs on a hydraulic power system that vacuums trash just below the surface; it is not meant to remove submerged debris. 

The boat’s christening was followed by the City of Tampa and Keep Tampa Bay Beautiful leading a team of volunteers through a city wide cleanup. The group focused on Cheney Park, Borrell Park, Gadsden Park, and Grant Park.

Mayor Jane Castor was present at the event and initiated the “Keep It Clean, Tampa” campaign. 

According to Tampa Bay 10, Castor said, “This is a personal passion of mine, ensuring that our community is clean each and every day…This is a multi-faceted and ongoing community initiative that should become part of the mindset of every Tampa resident.”

According to the Solid Waste Department, Litter Skimmer will serve the Sparkman Channel up to the Ybor Turning Basin, along Bayshore Blvd, and in the Hillsborough River but only up to Armature Works. Therefore, the boat will not be cleaning the Hillsborough Reservoir where approximately 717,000 residents receive their drinking water from.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that aquatic trash has a negative effect on tourism, a lucrative industry for the Tampa economy, and the financial burden falls on residents. A 2009 study by Keep America Beautiful found that the U.S. spends about $11.5 billion per year to clean up litter. 

To continue progress for the “Keep It Clean, Tampa” campaign, the city has received a $500,000 Trash Free Waterway Grant from the EPA to explore where the trash is coming from. Allan Antolik, the Trash-Free Waters Manager for the campaign, said 80% of the trash on land ends up in the waterways. 

A good amount of Tampa’s resources has gone to keeping the city clean. In 2021, Tampa Downtown Partnership’s Clean Team collected 281 tons of litter, pressure washed 130 blocks, and removed 259 graffiti examples. According to the official City of Tampa website, 168,000 pounds of trash was removed from the Hillsborough River in 2019. 

The Litter Skimmer does not go lower than a few feet below surface but dive teams are working on removing submerged debris. As of March 2022, they have collected 3,760 pounds of trash, including: 94 electric scooters, three E-bikes, four road signs, multiple road cones, and three wheelchairs. 

After its first week on the water, the Litter Skimmer picked up 840 pounds of trash, including plastic, metal, aluminum, wood and cardboard. The boat picks up organic material as well as larger objects washed in during flooding or storms which then become hazardous to boats. 

The City of Tampa will continue running its multiple programs dedicated to keeping the community and its waterways clean. Tampa waterways are iconic to the city’s identity as they are host to countless championship parades, the Gasparilla festival, and are used by locals everyday to explore their city by boat, kayak, or paddle board. 

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