“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” ~ Margaret Mead
If you’ve been following my blog, you know picking up litter and sharing about my trashy runs has become a common theme. I’ve connected online with like-minded litter picker-uppers near and far. One such person is Abby Braham, an environmental advocate and former navy pilot from Madison, Mississippi.
Abby moved to Madison about a year ago and couldn’t ignore the overwhelming amount of litter accumulating in the Pearl River and Ross Barnett Reservoir, among other surrounding waterways. She has picked up A LOT of litter—sometimes as much as nearly 200 items in 45 minutes—which inspired Take2Miss, a social media campaign using Instagram and Facebook to encourage people to take ownership of their community by picking up (and packing out) litter and then sharing pictures of it online using the hashtag #Take2Miss.
Her stewardship has moved beyond litter documentation to organizing cleanups, educating about plastic pollution, and forming strategic partnerships—and she’s having success. One such victory is at the Barnett Reservoir Dam Spillway, an area that could soon close if anglers don’t stop littering the area.
Abby’s efforts remind me every piece of litter picked up makes a difference and no small act is ever wasted. She represents an example of how an idea to improve one’s community can move people to action and have a positive impact. I encourage you to let Abby’s interview be a source of inspiration for you; whether it’s organizing a cleanup effort or creating something extraordinary to improve your own community.
What’s your background?
I grew up enjoying the many lakes and rivers in the northern part of New Jersey. This love of the outdoors led me to major in marine science at the University of South Carolina. I completed college using an ROTC scholarship and was commissioned as an officer in the US Navy upon graduation. After flight school in Pensacola, FL, I deployed on several different aircraft carriers as an H60 Seahawk search and rescue helicopter pilot. After serving 10 years in the US Navy, I left to be a stay-at-home mom for my two kids.
Why are you a litter crusader for the Pearl River?
The Pearl River Basin is a special watershed because it not only provides the drinking water for much of the state of Mississippi, but it also supports a vibrant ecosystem of wildlife, including several federally listed species such as the Gulf Sturgeon, the ringed map turtle, the Bald Eagle, and the Louisiana black bear. Spending time on the Pearl River rejuvenates your soul.
What’s the issue and what do you want to see happen?
The Pearl River is threatened in many ways, but the issue I’ve tried to tackle with my #Take2Miss campaign is plastic pollution. The Pearl runs through the heart of downtown Jackson and many of its tributaries are clogged with storm drain runoff filled with styrofoam and single-use plastic bottles. The goal of the Take2Miss initiative is to highlight the problem by posting photos of the worst areas, and encouraging people to take ownership of their watershed, including picking up litter.
Can you attach any numbers to how much litter you’ve picked up?
In addition to almost daily small cleanups around the Pearl River Basin, I’ve conducted several larger projects. In February, I collected over 700 styrofoam cups out of Brashears Creek near my home. In April, I collected 1,000 single-use water bottles from the banks of the Ross Barnett Reservoir in just 10 days!
Where are you focusing your main efforts?
One project I’m working on involves a popular fishing area below the Spillway of the Ross Barnett Reservoir dam. This area is notorious for its litter—monofilament line, plastic bait containers and lots of other trash are left behind daily. I’m thankful to be part of a Litter Reduction Take Force consisting of members from state/local governments, nonprofits, and the private sector that have come together to solve this particular trash problem. With support from the Pearl River Valley Water Supply District (PRVWSD) that owns the land at the Spillway, our Task Force has taken steps to change the mindset towards a “Pack it in, Pack it Out” mentality. The Task Force has conducted several large cleanups at the Spillway and PRVWSD has put up a giant banner threatening to close the area if littering continues.
Is there an update on the Spillway?
Our Litter Reduction Task Force has received a vast amount of public support and media coverage. The community definitely wants to solve this problem and we have seen an immediate improvement to the amount of trash being left at the Spillway. Peer pressure amongst those using the Spillway has brought about the change.
How can the community get involved?
If you live in the area, I encourage you to join me on September 23 for the 1st Annual Pearl River Clean Sweep, a vision of Jessica Gauley, owner of Honey Island Kayak Tours, who has been leading river cleanup events on the Lower Pearl for over 6 years. This year, the goal is to clean up the Pearl River from its headwaters in Nanih Waiya, Mississippi, downriver through the Ross Barnett Reservoir, along the border of Mississippi and Louisiana and all the way to Pearlington on the Gulf Coast. Get more information and register online for the Clean Sweep.
Of course, you can join me anytime by picking up at least two pieces of litter, snapping a picture, and posting it on Instagram or Facebook using the hashtag #Take2Miss – thank you!
Abby’s Take2Miss website provides information on her campaign and progress, opportunities to get involved in her cleanup efforts, and includes an online form to report litter pollution. You can follow her on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.