When Caleb Jameson walks the beaches of Sarasota, it isn’t just for a relaxing, fun day with friends. At 15, Jameson is a dedicated environmentalist who has devoted time to protecting sea turtles on the Gulf Coast and has found an ingenious way to do that.
After attending Mote Marine Laboratory’s Youth Ocean Conservation Summit, Jameson discovered that there is a 22 percent mortality rate for turtles who ingest a single microplastic. A problem solver, he invented the Turtle Safe Toy Box. These white lattice boxes, measuring 4 feet by 3.5 feet and propped on four fence posts, serve as holders for unwanted or discarded plastic beach toys. Standing next to beach trashcans, they remind families to clean up after a day of fun. Don’t want to lug that sandy beach pail with the broken handle home? Throw it in the box. (Before the pandemic, kids in need of something new to play with were also taking a toy—a great way to recycle.)
On average, 50 to 100 toys are collected daily, equaling anywhere from 12 to 25 pounds of plastic. Jameson monitors the boxes as he walks to check sea turtle nests with the Longboat Key Turtle Watch Group and has found them all in use—especially on busy weekends like Fourth of July—despite the pandemic and beach closures earlier this year.
Four boxes have been placed so far, three on Longboat Key and one on Lido Beach. Jameson worked with private landowners on Longboat, installing boxes at popular beach entrances like the Casa Del Mar Beach Resort, where staff says the box is constantly used by guests. The box on Lido Beach was placed with help from City of Sarasota’s Economic Development General Manager Stevie Freeman-Montes.
“Caleb arrived at my office as an eighth grader with his proposal to plant a turtle safe toy box on Lido Beach,” says Montes. “He had written references from Mote, a replica of the box and an entire professional pitch.”
Jameson hopes to expand the initiative this year, planting more boxes on public beach sites in Sarasota, on Holmes Beach and in Brevard County and on the state’s east coast, with volunteers helping him plan and build. He also continues to educate the public about sea turtle conservation and how to reduce plastic waste in our oceans by speaking at the 2020 Youth Ocean Conservation Summit and through winning awards like the SeaWorld Environmental Excellence award.
But the best part about this initiative for Jameson? Watching kids have fun recycling.
“Earlier this year, I met two sisters visiting from Ohio who were grabbing toys out of the box on Lido,” says Jameson. “Their mom was so pleased with the idea, that she scanned the QR code on the box’s sign, registering her kids to become Sea Turtle Defenders, learning more about conservation. That was pretty cool.”