At just 11 years old, Caymus Maxson is already a force to be reckoned with.
Last year, she started Trash Turtles as part of her fifth grade school project. A year later, after social media promotion and monthly cleanups, the volunteer organization was registered as a 501c3 nonprofit and gained national recognition from actor Ian Somerhalder and Keep America Beautiful.
According to her dad Bryan, Caymus’ school, Madeira Beach Fundamental, includes community service in their curriculum. For their annual project, Caymus had bigger ideas.
In February 2020, while at the beach, the fifth-grader witnessed something that made her yearn to make change.
“The City of Madeira Beach was raking the beach with this big tractor-like rake. They would pick up all of the seaweed in the sand, but the problem was that the trash would intertwine with the seaweed,” Caymus said. She watched the city dump the trash-speckled seaweed back into the water.
Caymus took her concerns straight to the mayor, Maggie Black, and proposed four new ordinances. She asked that the city ban single-use plastics, cigarettes, cigars and e-cigarettes and Styrofoam on the beach, as well as balloons within city limits.
According to Caymus, Black was thrilled with her tenacity and suggested she pitch her ordinances to the city commission. While the ordinances are yet to be passed, Caymus launched her own initiative: Trash Turtles.
“I hope to spread more awareness, contact more people, just to get out there and say, ‘Hey, a kid can do this, then so can you guys,’” Caymus said.
During the initial days of pandemic shutdowns, Caymus started discovering items and products that were not as sustainable as she liked, Bryan said. She reviewed the products on social media, leading to partnerships with Keep Pinellas Beautiful, which helps bring volunteers to the cleanups and provide materials, and Surfing’s Evolution, which helps with exposure and grants.
Caymus’ Trash Turtles has three prongs, said Bryan: cleanups, awareness and community action. During the monthly cleanups, Trash Turtles also sell stickers, shirts and hats for the cause.
“Anything that we sell, or any donations that we take in, everything goes straight to her initiatives. She’s given away scholarships two years in a row – it’s now a thousand-dollar scholarship.”
Trash Turtles is also raising money to purchase water refill stations for local schools. Two stations were donated to Skycrest Elementary and Madeira Beach Fundamental Middle School and they hope to bring more to other schools.
The Turtles meet monthly for cleanups, but are always advocating for increased awareness on environmental issues. Their mission is to “leave with three.”
“Wherever you are, whether it be home, school, at the beach, at the park, work,” Caymus said, “always pick up three pieces of trash and just leave with it.”
Learn more at trashturtles.org.