via St. Pete Catalyst

Zoey Yuhasz, left, with others from the Coastal Crusaders group. Images provided.

“Leave it better than you found it.”

This message is central to the mission of Coastal Crusaders, an environmental nonprofit group started by 15-year-old Zoey Yuhasz.

Zoey, who’ll be a sophomore at St. Pete Collegiate High School in the fall, is using her group to better the environment with local beach cleanups, recycling items left behind on beaches and protecting nesting sea turtles.

As part of Earth Week, Coastal Crusaders is hosting a beach cleanup Saturday at 9 a.m. on Madeira Beach, across the street from John’s Pass Village. All supplies for cleaning up the community will be provided, and volunteers will be entered into a drawing for a prize.

Zoey Yuhasz

Zoey, who grew up cleaning up litter while walking around her neighborhood and nearby beaches, said the group is not just about picking up trash – it is also about spreading awareness.

The different elements of the environment are all connected, she explained, so her group also tackles issues such as items left behind on beaches, including beach chairs and children’s sand toys. Zoey and her mom, Rhonda Yuhasz, said they do not want these items to end up in the ocean or in a landfill, so they have created beach boxes.

Beach boxes are large enough to hold several items, and Zoey utilizes her artistic skills to decorate them with vibrant drawings of sea creatures. Beach visitors, whether they are locals or tourists, can leave behind unwanted items in these boxes for others to use.

An additional initiative Zoey has taken is conducting “hole patrols,” or filling holes on the beach with sand and knocking over sand castles to protect nesting sea turtles, which crawl from the Gulf at night.

Beach-goers will walk over as they are intrigued by this process, explained Rhonda, and after asking questions and learning the importance of it, ask to help. Keeping beaches “clean, dark and flat” for the turtles by reducing litter, light pollution and holes is key to their protection, Rhonda said.

Many people are simply not aware of this, she added, so Coastal Crusaders aims to spread awareness on the topic. They spread information through flyers, social media, a website and word of mouth. They have many local partnerships too, such as Keep Pinellas Beautiful, which helps with providing cleanup supplies.

Coastal Crusaders, said Zoey, is a group where people take action while learning about the effects of their actions on the environment.

Driven by her passion for sustainability and wanting to provide a place for her friends and neighbors to get involved with environmental protection, Zoey said she crusades for the planet by inspiring change in people’s mindsets.

Zoey and her family have been residents of Lealman their entire lives. In addition, it’s worth noting that Zoey has taken on the responsibility of caring for a county mile and a local community in West Lealman through Keep Pinellas Beautiful, where she and her Coastal Crusaders tirelessly work to maintain cleanliness and preserve the beauty of our surroundings.”

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