People who leave tents or canopies on the beach overnight might not find them in the morning.
The Galveston City Council on Thursday unanimously approved a rule that allows cleaning crews to remove canopies and other personal items left on public beaches from sunset to sunrise, a move that follows similar rules in other coastal tourist towns.
The new ordinance, dubbed the “leave no trace” rule, gained significant support from the city council when Galveston Park Board of Trustees staff proposed it last year.
The park board cleans and maintains beaches.
Canopies and other beach items left overnight make cleaning difficult for crews and confuse and harm wildlife, park board officials have said.
Council members showed an eagerness to get the rule on the books in time for spring break, which brings flocks of tourists to Galveston in March.
“I don’t want to phase in,” District 6 Councilwoman Jackie Cole said. “I think we need to adopt this and get on with it.”
Such enthusiasm was encouraging to the park board, Director of Operations Reuben Trevino said.
“Being sensitive to our environment is an important piece of the park board’s mission,” Trevino said. “This ordinance will give us the leverage we need on the beaches to help enforce that effort across the island.”
In a two-week period from Aug. 22 to Sept. 2, park board maintenance crews picked up 25 abandoned canopies, which cost about $4,320 in manual labor, hourly wages, equipment mobilization and wildlife monitors, according to park board reports.
“It’s important to keeping the beach clean,” said Rhonda Gregg Hirsch, a member of the city’s beach access committee. “It’s incredible how much is left out there. It’s a shame we can’t have a garage sale at the end of the summer.”
The canopies can confuse or entangle wildlife who try to crawl over the beaches, said Theresa Morris, Gulf program coordinator with Turtle Island Restoration Network.
“As the sea turtles come to shore, they’re trying to reach the dunes, but unfortunately, they’re blocked by the debris,” Morris said.
The rule is effective immediately, but the park board has plans to phase in enforcement, park board spokeswoman Jaree Fortin said.
Until May 24, staff members will tag canopies and other items and allow owners two nights to remove their property. After this, staff members will remove and dispose of the canopies, chairs, coolers or other items, Fortin said.
From May 25 to June 29, staff will allow property owners only one evening to remove tagged items from the beaches, Fortin said.
Full implementation begins June 30, when park board employees will discard items when they first notice them between sunset and sunrise, Fortin said.
Implementing the ordinance may prove somewhat of a challenge, City Manager Brian Maxwell said.
If someone moves a canopy or removes a tag, but still leaves it up overnight, crews might face a challenge, he said.
“All of this becomes very nebulous when we try to enforce this,” Maxwell said.
By spring break, the Galveston Bay Foundation hopes to have ready a public awareness campaign that will teach people about the rule, foundation spokeswoman Claire Everett said.
The foundation, park board and city plan to develop signs to tell visitors and residents to remove their personal items.