There was royalty spotted on the Emerald Coast last weekend, and she was taking out the trash.
The current-reigning Miss Florida Junior Pre-Teen of the National American Miss contest, 8-year-old Alexa Johnsen of Niceville, was picking up litter on the beach with her father.
The pint-sized conservationist wasn't alone in her eco-friendly fight, on Saturday. More than 100 volunteers packed onto the east-pavilion at Henderson Beach State Park to take part in the Ocean Conservancy's International Coastal Cleanup.
The third-grade beauty queen says that “My Mom taught me how important it was not to litter when I was really little and that made me want to be an environmental scientist,” she said. “In my interview at the pageant I told them how much I wanted to help clean up all the litter.”
Davis competed in the pageant in July in Jacksonville; she'll be representing Florida in Anaheim, Calif., later this year when she competes for the title of Little Miss America. But on Sept. 15 she was just part of the crowd, though fellow volunteers were excited and energized by her presence.
Volunteer and organizer, Paul Ratzel, of the Tourist Development Council (TDC) and the Henderson Environmental Committee says every year they find "thousands of cigarette butts and rubber bands from beach umbrellas." He continues, saying, other easily-forgettable items are beach toys like shovels, buckets, and rafts.
“We used to hang on to all of the toys that were left behind but we started to run out of room for everything,” he said.
Other volunteers and organizers with the TDC, Cindy Fuller, Earl Johnson and Tom Krauss say that they are "dedicated to beach clean-ups," and they are "thankful for the volunteers."
Volunteer’s typically report finding the kind of things you’d expect to find — cigarette butts, plastic bags, aluminum cans and paper. Occasionally there are reports of objects being found that are rather unexpected.
This past-Saturday's Henderson Beach State Park didn't produce any overwhelmingly strange items, but organizers from the TDC told The Log that three-years ago during the coastal cleanup Henderson brought new meaning to the term "everything but the kitchen sink" when volunteers literally pulled a kitchen sink from the water and added it to the tangled fishing lines and plastic six-pack holders the state park had already found earlier in the day.
The TDC says that the sink can't hold a match to the toilet, which still had all of its plumbing still connected.
“Unfortunately some people use the water as a dumping ground,” Fuller said.
Members of an environmental science class from Crestview High School were also present to do their part during the cleanup on Saturday; this was the group of 10th and 11th graders first time doing a beach-cleanup. Student Madyson Lang said they found "a lot of rubber bands, we also found a towel and someone’s shirt."
Destinite Karen Mann says this is her first “official beach cleanup."
“I've never been given a T-shirt, gloves, a water bottle, paper and pencil; this is going to be quite a day," she said.
There are coastal beach cleanups held twice-annually, in September and April, and volunteers of all ages are always needed. You can do your part by cleaning up after yourself every time you go to the beach and by going to oceanconservancy.org.