Environmental nonprofit sees Clearwater as beacon of hopeBeacon City designation honors sustainability efforts

Shining a light on communities that collaborate to protect aquatic ecosystems, the nonprofit Blue-Green Connections has recognized Clearwater as a Beacon City for its coastal and environmental protection programming. 

Clearwater is one of two cities in the state of Florida to earn this designation. Dunedin is the other. The lighthouse-inspired title recognizes a city’s efforts as a beacon of hope for coastal waters; more specifically, Hope Spots. 

According to Sheridan Boyle, Clearwater’s sustainability coordinator, many of the strategies included in the city’s original Greenprint plan have been completed or are currently in progress. Boyle’s position was created from an initiative outlined in the plan, and several groups and residents galvanized to create a culture of sustainability in Clearwater.

“We have really active neighborhood associations in Clearwater and a coalition of neighborhood groups (Clearwater Neighborhoods Coalition) in addition to other groups such as local nonprofits like Ocean Allies, which focuses on ocean-friendly practices,” she explains. 

Through efforts related to the Clearwater Greenprint, the city invited residents and businesses to join forces and assess the reality of the present, clarify the likely changes that future generations will face, identify strategies to change the conditions that can be affected, and to adapt to the ones that can’t be changed.

“Before COVID hit, we actually had our first try at an ocean-friendly city-sponsored event, which was the Sea Blues Festival in February, and it went really well,” Boyle says. “We have the vendors using no plastic bags and no styrofoam either. We were only using truly compostable utensils, and then we had a recycling center that taught people what's actually recyclable and what's discharged.” 
Boyle, who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master's in humane education, previously worked as the recycling specialist for the city. “I started that position in 2018,” she says. “I learned a ton in that year. I gained a lot of connections and knowledge in the city of the different departments as well as on the outside, working with environmental groups. Once I was hired in the sustainability coordinator role, it really leveraged me to catalyze some of the things I had already known from working in the city.”  

Also in 2018, City Council unanimously passed resolution 18-08 to encourage Clearwater businesses to adopt ocean-friendly practices. These practices include not using plastic bags, plastic straws, plastic utensils, Styrofoam, and balloons. Ocean-friendly businesses choose reusable, paper-based biodegradable, compostable, or recyclable materials instead and maintain a clean recycling program.

Blue-Green Connections’ Beacon honor traces back to environmental efforts from a little more than a year ago. The Bay area volunteers who galvanized and helped nominate the Florida Gulf Coast Water as a Hope Spot formed Blue-Green Connections in May 2019. The Dunedin-based nonprofit was instrumental in adding Florida’s west coast to some 130 Hope Spots worldwide.

Mission Blue, a nonprofit alliance run by Dr. Sylvia Earle, a famed marine biologist and Dunedin resident, named Florida’s Gulf Coast as a "Hope Spot" for its critical role in contributing to the health of the oceans.

Blue-Green Connections continues to educate and motivate citizens, businesses, and organizations to protect land and waters. This recognition is due to the city’s past resolution in support of the Gulf Coast Hope Spot and current sustainability and resiliency programming.

"The city of Clearwater upholds the legacy of its name by valuing both water conservation and quality," says Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard in a prepared statement. "We are proud to be recognized as a Beacon City. The health of our coastal and freshwater ecosystems is at the heart of what makes Clearwater a bright and beautiful place to live and visit."

To learn more about how to keep Clearwater clean and green, visit the city’s sustainability and resiliency website.
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Read more articles by Julie Garisto.

A graduate of Largo High, USF, and the University of Tampa's Creative Writing MFA program, Julie Garisto grew up in Clearwater and now has a home in the Ocala National Forest. Between writing assignments, she's teaching English courses at Saint Leo University and other colleges. Julie has written arts features in Creative Pinellas' online magazine ArtsCoast Journal, Creative Loafing, Florida travel pieces  (Visit Tampa Bay and Visit Jacksonville), the Cade Museum, and features and reviews in the Tampa Bay Times. Her previous journalistic roles include arts and entertainment editor for Creative Loafing, staff writer for the Tampa Bay Times, and copy editor for the Weekly Planet. Lately, she's been obsessed with exploring Florida's State Parks, small towns, and natural springs.