An inaugural marine debris cleanup tournament is set for Sept. 18 in an effort to clean the waters and nearshore lands. CONTRIBUTED

Collect debris on land or sea and vie for more than $5,000 in cash prizes. An inaugural marine debris tournament in Islamorada is seeking teams eager to fill as many garbage bags as possible.

Set for Sept. 18, also known as International Coastal Cleanup Day, participants can compete in one of three divisions. A land division will see teams grabbing garbage from the shoreline up to 100 feet inland. An on-the-water division will have participants scooping debris from the shoreline out to the water, while another division will have competitors collecting debris underwater. 

Teams in each division bringing in the most trash will receive a first-place prize of $1,000. Second-place gets $500 and third-place $250. 

A cleanup competition in the Keys formulated more than a year ago, when State Attorney Dennis Ward posted a “Plastic Fishing Tournament” in Mexico. Sponsored by Corona, fishermen were paid to fish plastic out of the ocean. 

Spotting Ward’s post was Islamorada’s Audrina Ennis, who’s founder of Shoreline Restoration Services. Since the nonprofit’s inception in 2015, Ennis has brought community stakeholders together to combat marine debris along the shores and on the water through a number of cleanups. 

Ennis said Ward’s post brought a flood of people encouraging such an event. 

“I reached out to him and let him know it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I never participated in a tournament, let alone held one,” she said. “He and I formed a committee of six people, and we’ve been getting together every week to bring this to fruition.”

Participants in the inaugural debris collection tournament can clean any area from Tavernier Creek Bridge to Channel 5 Bridge. Each team entering the tournament can consist of up to four people. 

Teams should be ready for an 8 a.m. kickoff, and they must be back at The Postcard Inn by 3 p.m. for weigh-in. Official weighmaster is Islamorada Village Manager Greg Oravec. 

“Hopefully it will be well attended,” Ward said. “When you consider the fact that our whole economy is based on our waters and what’s in, on and below our waters, I think events like this are very important.”

Registration for the tournament runs through Sept. 15. All participants must complete a registration form in order to be eligible. Registrations can be submitted to the Islamorada Moose Lodge, 81573 Old Highway, Islamorada, or online at The entry fee is $25 per individual team member. 

A captain’s meeting will be held Sept. 17 at 6 p.m. at Islamorada Moose Lodge. At least one participant from each team should be present. 

Ultimately, Ennis and Ward said they hope to have an annual cleanup competition not just in Islamorada, but throughout the island chain also to bring marine debris awareness to the forefront. 

“We’ve had a lot of people doing cleanups like this professionally since the hurricane,” Ward said. “The committee agreed to keep in the parameters of Islamorada, but we want to grow it and get it going Keyswide where we can have various points where people can pick up trash they’re getting out of the waters and mangroves.”
Visit for more information on the event and the rules.

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Jim McCarthy is a Western New Yorkers who escaped the snow and frigid temperatures for warm living by the water. A former crime & court reporter and city editor for two Western New York newspapers, Jim has been honing his craft since he graduated from St. Bonaventure University in 2014. In his 3-plus years in the Keys, Jim has enjoyed connecting with the community. “One of my college professors would always preach to be curious,” he said. “Behind every person is a story that’s unique to them, and one worth telling. As writers, we are the ones who paint the pictures in the readers minds of the emotions, the struggles and the triumphs.” Jim is past president of the Key Largo Sunset Rotary Club, which is composed of energetic members who serve the community’s youth and older populations. Jim is a sports fanatic who loves to watch football, mixed martial arts and golf. He loves to hit the links and play some softball with his Make A Play team. He also enjoys time with family (he's expecting a little boy in October).