By Tiffany Merlo Phelps 

Keep St. Johns County Beautiful is on a mission to not only keep local beaches clean, but to also educate others to want to do the same. 

To that end and in honor of Earth Day this month, three locations in St. Johns County (Mickler’s Beach, Vilano Beach and Crescent Beach), will host a demo by BeBot, the sand sifting, microplastic grabbing robot. BeBot sifts the very surface layer of sand, no more than two inches deep, collecting debris that sometimes goes unnoticed such as cigarette butts, bottle caps, food wrappers, straws and other plastic fragments. 

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“The beaches might look clean, but once you get past the top level, there are micro plastics underneath,” said Ginger Baker, Keep St. Johns County Beautiful executive director. “We want to use this demo to promote litter prevention, reduce marine debris and underscore sustainability. Basically, we all need to clean up after ourselves.” 

BeBot can clean up to 32,000 square feet of beach in an hour, roughly the size of seven basketball courts. About the size of a small golf cart, BeBot runs on a mix of solar and battery power and operates silently. It is manufactured by Poralu Marine, a world leader in the design and construction of aluminum marinas, and is part of the Searial Cleaners brand. 

BeBot, valued at $68,000, is operated by trained staff using a remote control. Baker said that it is intended to be used by local Florida affiliates such as Keep Florida Beautiful in controlled areas as a way to capture attention and educate the public. BeBot was donated to Keep Florida Beautiful by Surfing’s Evolution and Preservation Foundation, an organization funded by the Endless Summer specialty Florida license plate. Keep St. Johns County Beautiful falls under the umbrella of Keep Florida Beautiful. 

Baker said that BeBot is currently on its Florida tour and is not meant to routinely clean beaches or to replace volunteers. Also, she said, BeBot causes no harm to the environment and went through the Department of Environmental Protection permitting process, which ensures there is no disruption to the local environment and wildlife. 

“We plan to have beach clean-ups taking place right alongside the demo,” said Baker. “Often, seeing a demo like this will motivate people to want to clean up as well.” 

Monthly clean-ups are planned by Keep St. Johns County Beautiful, and Baker said that roundtable discussions are frequently held with community members to “customize goals for the area.” 

Ponte Vedra Beach resident Bob Davenport, also known as “Bucket Bob,” who regularly picks up trash on Mickler’s Beach, has been included in these discussions. 

“It truly bothers me to witness the result of apathy towards our treasures — i.e. beaches, green spaces, environment. This is a moral choice to do what’s right for the spaces we occupy at any given time,” said Davenport. “I am most disappointed when I see toys and juice boxes on the beach. Kids knowingly or unknowingly learn by example from their role models (parents/adults). They learn it’s okay not to be responsible for belongings they leave on the ground. It is an ‘opportunity lost’ to make a child a better person.”

Ponte Vedra Beach resident Elizabeth Joshi has also been a part of the roundtable discussions as she picks up trash along Palm Valley Road on a daily basis. 

“It is ironic to me that people love to escape to the beach to enjoy the natural beauty and yet, when they exit that setting, they often leave behind trash that threatens that very environment. When beachgoers leave behind bottles, cans, wrappers, and beach toys, these items can easily be swept into the ocean during high tide or further degrade on the sand and pose a hazard to sea turtles and other wildlife,” said Joshi. “While the use of the BeBot will be an amazing step forward in cleaning up beach trash while not threatening wildlife like bigger equipment may, it still should be incumbent upon anyone visiting the beach to leave with everything they arrived with or better yet, leave with more than they arrived with such as an extra piece of trash that some other beachgoer may have left behind.” 

Baker agreed and welcomed all residents to attend a demonstration at one of the locations and to celebrate Earth Day every day by routinely joining in clean-ups. 

[Author’s note: The BeBot demo is open to the public and will take place on Thursday, April 20 from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. at Mickler’s Beach; Friday, April 21 from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. at Vilano Beach and Saturday, April 22 from 9:30 a.m. – 12 p.m. at the Crescent Beach Pavilion. Visit for more information about routine clean ups organized by Keep St. Johns Beautiful.]

Photo courtesy Ginger Baker 
The BeBot demo is open to the public and will take place on Thursday, April 20 from 5 p.m. – 8 p.m. at Mickler’s Beach.

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