He walks the harbor barefoot, scooping up whatever junk he finds at the water’s edge.
It’s his weekly ritual. A task he fits between classes, that nets him bag after bag of trash that was either washed or thrown into the harbor behind the campus.
He started after a friend of his noted the garbage drifting in the water after class.
“One day you’re gonna see me in there cause I’m tired of seeing it,” Thompson joked to his friend.
The next week the joke turned toward reality.
The sophomore graphic design student resides in Port Charlotte, around an hour and a half drive from St. Pete. With a five hour gap between his classes, he found something productive to do with that time.
“Everyone walks past it,” said Thompson. “I figured I’d just hop in and pick it up.”
According to Thompson, filling up a single trash bag by hand takes around 20 minutes but can take up to an hour if he uses his net. Despite the physical nature, the activity has become almost meditative for him.
“It’s actually been super clean lately. I’m kinda disappointed ‘cause I like doing it,” he said.
Thompson can’t take all the credit for cleaning up the waterfront. Organizations like the Student Environmental Awareness Society also contribute to keeping our waterfront clean.
Thompson frequently cleans out the the harbor’s watergoat, a buoy system set up to catch trash and debris from city runoff. The watergoat is cleaned out weekly by student volunteers from SEAS, but heavy rains can warrant extra cleanings.
However, Thompson is not part of any club or fueled by eco-activism.
“I just don’t like seeing it, so I did something about it,” he said. Thompson does consider cleaning up the bay as his way of “giving back” for his bi-weekly fishing trips.
Ironically, Thompson says he’s not even a tidy person.
“Trash in the water just bugs me,” he said.
According to Thompson, the most common thing he pulls out of the water are empty chip bags, specifically Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. Other common items are drinking straws, medical gloves and styrofoam. He only picks out the non-biodegradable garbage, throwing back things like mangrove seeds and driftwood, which are beneficial for the ecosystem.
Thompson said the most interesting thing he’s found is a wallet.
“But there wasn’t anything in it,” he said. Other interesting objects include shoes, a phone charging cord and a hypodermic needle.
As he works, passing students and faculty frequently stop out of curiosity. Some stop to watch, say nothing and continue on, while others ask questions. Although he does not seek any praise, people tend to thank or commend him while he cleans. Some students even comment how they would like to join him, although none have actually done so yet.
Thompson explained that he isn’t trying to set some kind of example. This is simply something he does because he wants to. Although, Thompson would welcome students who would like to join him during his routine. Thompson can typically be found by the waterfront on Mondays and Wednesdays around 2 p.m.
When Thompson fills up his bag, he throws it in the closest trashcan, puts on his shoes and washes up. He doesn’t tell his friends or family about the work he’s doing because he doesn’t feel the need to.
“I don’t do this for attention,” he said.
Although Thompson may not be passionate about the environment, he is passionate about art. His dream is to create his own cartoon on Adult Swim. Thompson says he draws a lot of “ugly things” so he chose the business name Yugly for his work. He currently designs and sells iron-on patches.
You can find some of Thompson’s graphic design work at the links below.