By Tiffany Merlo Phelps
It is hard to miss Bob Davenport when he visits Mickler’s Beach.
He’s the guy carrying two cameras, two buckets and a trash grabber — spending three early morning hours every day cleaning the beach and taking surfer photography. Somewhat of a fixture on the beach and fondly known as “Bucket Bob,” Davenport also finds lost items and feeds a colony of area cats.
Davenport has been doing this religiously for the past five years, only missing one month last year for open heart surgery.
“Once I stopped working, I actually got to re-engage with the beauty of the beach and my love of photography,” said Davenport, who moved from Virginia to Florida with his wife in 1995. Both worked in the mortgage industry at the time.
While taking pictures, Davenport could not overlook the trash strewn all over the sand and water and began cleaning the beach daily. He collects seven to 10 pounds of trash every day. He said cigarette butts, plastic pieces, cello straw wrappers, bottle caps, straws and food wrappers make up the biggest part of the trash.
As a self-proclaimed “Navy brat,” Davenport said he learned very early in life to respect the environment. What he saw on the beach angered him.
“The rate of abandonment is mind-blowing,” said Davenport, referring to everything from toys, floatables and canopies. In some cases, the items are so mistreated and large that he has to cut them up and remove them from the beach.
Davenport also recovers many items that he feels need to be reunited with their owners, and he has found an efficient way to do that through Bucket Bob’s Beach Finds — a Facebook page he recently created to feature the items. He offers this service at no cost and simply wishes to get the items back to the rightful owners. Davenport felt that the past system of an old hanging basket at the beach didn’t quite succeed in that mission.
Davenport recently put up his own sign and a new basket at the beach entrance with county approval to direct folks to Bucket Bob’s Beach Finds. On July 4, Davenport plans to present a “Top 5 Trash Display” and an “On Beach” Kick Butts display to remind everyone to preserve the beauty of the beach.
So far, Davenport has been able to get items back to a few people, and he has had many others reach out for help finding items. He continually looks for specific items on behalf of the community. One day he walks north towards the Sawgrass Club, and another day he walks south, noting that Mondays and Tuesdays tend to be big weekend recovery days. Davenport also joined forces with the Jacksonville Beaches Lost, Found & Stolen Facebook page since items will drift, thanks to the tides and currents.
The top three lost items found on the beach are credit cards, glasses and wallets. He has also found and returned a person’s car keys.
Davenport said the most interesting item that he recently found was a 25-person capacity lifeboat. Davenport contacted the United States Coast Guard and learned that it came from a Korean cargo ship and a failed drill. The lifeboat was not salvageable, so Davenport cut it up and removed it from the beach.
As for his photography, Davenport submits his surfer photos to 911surfreport.com, so that surfers can find their pictures.
“I try to get cameo shots of each individual surfer,” said Davenport, a self-taught photographer. “I’m an artist at heart. I have an eye to see things as an artist.”
Nicole Crosby, who co-founded Never Endanger Sea Turtles (NEST), said Davenport’s cleaning efforts have made a huge difference for the environment. And his photography is stunning, she said.
“Bob prevents thousands of pieces of litter from entering or reentering the ocean. The positive impact he has had on sea turtles and other ocean life is incalculable,” Crosby said. “He makes Mickler Beach more enjoyable for humans too. I hope that Bob’s selfless acts are an inspiration to others.”
Crosby also said that Davenport helps by filling in holes that people dig during sea turtle nesting season; these holes can kill a nesting sea turtle if she falls in.
In 2018, Davenport had climbed up a lifeguard chair to take a photo, and he unknowingly lost his wallet as he came back down. Shortly after, he received a Facebook message from a man vacationing in the area. The man returned the wallet completely intact, and Davenport gave him a reward for the kind act. While Davenport will not accept any reward money for his finds, the experience did validate his mission.
“I was forever grateful to have my wallet returned because it would have been so hard to replace all those items. And this solidified for me the importance of helping other people to find their valuables.”
Photo courtesy Tiffany Merlo Phelps
Bob Davenport on the beach cleaning.