SOUTH PADRE ISLAND — During Tonya Tallard’s free time, she can most often be found spending time at one of her favorite places, the beach.

After moving to the Island from Wisconsin five years ago, Tallard began volunteering at Sea Turtle, Inc. where she learned that the diamond-shaped marks in plastic found on the beach were places that turtles bit into.

She said as soon as she began learning about the effects of trash on the beach, she wanted to help combat the issue.

After noticing she and her friends often picked up trash while visiting the beach, they started getting together to clean the beach more often.

This led to the creation of Costa Cleanups, which Tallard is the vice-president of.

“I kept seeing all of the bottle caps and the same stuff washing up over and over every day. It just really bothered me and I started noticing my friends were picking it up on their walks in the morning so we just started getting together and cleaning together,” Tallard explained. “I started the Facebook group and it kind of grew from there.”

Costa Cleanups became a nonprofit organization in February of this year, but the group had been clearing trash from the beach prior to that.

Within the last two years, the organization has cleared more than 60,000 pounds of trash from the beach.

“We’re making a huge difference,” she said. “Can you imagine how many turtles, dolphins and birds that we’ve saved? If we didn’t do it, there’d be twice as much trash out there so we’re doing a good job.”

Tallard said most of the trash was found on the north side of South Padre Island, past County Beach Access #6.

According to Tallard, this is an area where trash greatly piles up because no one cleans it.

“There’s so much trash washing in there,” Tallard said. “I think it’s because of our currents, and so much of it is getting eaten by our wildlife.”

Tallard said Costa Cleanups has almost 1,700 members.

“It’s a great team. We’re doing the best we can,” she said. “Since it’s a challenge and unfortunately right now it’s been washing up faster than we’ve been cleaning up, so the more volunteers the better.”

Tallard said the organization stopped doing cleanups this year for a little while because of the pandemic.

“We had to stop for about three months because of the closure and we couldn’t get there unfortunately, but as soon as it reopened, we had another cleanup,” she said. “We had probably 200 volunteers and then we just had one and we had 70 people come.”

The area that Costa Cleanups targets for cleanups can only be traveled to with a four-wheel drive vehicle.

“We’d probably get a lot more done if it wasn’t for Covid,” Tallard said. “That’s what is really hurting us right now, getting people.”

Tallard said the pandemic has made an impact on the beach cleanups because people are not able to offer rides to that area like they used to.

“It’s really affected our volunteers, which is really sad because we had the three storms come through here lately and the last one, Beta, brought in more trash than probably the first two put together,” she said. “I cannot believe all of the trash out there. It’s so sad.”

Tallard said the organization is currently trying to raise money to get a four-wheel drive truck to help offer rides and haul trash from the beach.

“People do still care even though it’s challenging times right now, but we need more help and involvement,” she said. “We have lots of supplies donated so if somebody wants to do their own cleanup like maybe a family wants to go out there, we’ll provide supplies for them too.”

For more information about Costa Cleanups or to make a donation, visit https://costacleanups.com/.