The Last Straw

Julie Featherston and her son Harper on Sunset Beach.

Julie Featherston and her son Harper on Sunset Beach.

Jennifer Chapman and Julie Featherston had never met but, together, they launched an environmental campaign after an October 2 Facebook post went viral.

It was a typical day for Featherston, who took her five-year-old son Harper to the beach at Sunset Beach near Caddy’s On The Beach in Treasure Island.

“This is our beach and I go there with my son and family all the time,” says Featherston, a nurse who used to work for Environment Florida as a grassroots campaign organizer. “My son walks up to people on the beach and picks up trash. So, my son was doing his thing and I noticed how many plastic straws he picked up in just 10 minutes. It was a slow weekday so I wondered why there were so many straws on the beach.”

Featherston took a photo of Harper holding all the straws he found in the 10-minute timespan and posted it to her Facebook page.

“I posted it on Facebook just for friends. I wanted to get at least 100 shares. Then other groups started getting involved and the story took off,” says Featherston.

Featherston also decided to show the photo to Caddy’s manager.

“This just was not OK,” she says. “They should know the straws are out there.”

Meanwhile, Chapman, who has a marketing background and grew up in the area, saw the post and reposted the picture to the Tampa Bay Restaurant Review and the WTSP Facebook pages.

“I shared the photo and contacted the TV stations because a picture is worth a thousand words and that photo spoke volumes. I wanted it to go viral,” says Chapman. “This is a big issue and residents know it’s a big issue. The only sane choice is to ban all plastics like some areas of California and Hawaii have done. If it starts with plastic straws, that’s great.”

Chapman and Featherston created a Facebook page called No More Plastics On Our Beaches and the response has been beyond their expectations. The picture of Harper holding up the straws caught the attention of WTSP news anchor Dion Lim and other news stations, environmental groups and the city council and mayor of Treasure Island, who contacted Featherston and invited her to speak at a Beach Stewardship Meeting on October 13 at Treasure Island City Hall. A Sunset Beach cleanup was held last weekend. Caddy’s On The Beach also responded and has developed a new policy.

“We are now only providing straws with drinks on request,” says Ken Hautmann, a manager at Caddy’s. “We are also looking into biodegradable straws.”

For more information or to get involved, find them on Facebook and take the No Straw Pledge Tampa Bay.

“It would really help if beach residents use the media attention before it’s a flash in the pan and is gone,” says Chapman. “We need to keep the momentum going.”


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