Shutterbug Pulls Double-Duty On Tampa Bay Rivers

By Tom Schlichter

Bob Luce and his Explorer 300x after a day of collecting trash from a local waterway.

It really doesn’t sound like much of an effort, to hear Bob Luce explain it, but the humble
76-year-old retired IT specialist is quietly making a big difference in his little corner of
the planet. Luce, you see, loves to paddle the freshwater rivers that roll through Tampa
Bay, FL, and he silently cleans up the waterways from his Sea Eagle 300x Explorer while
enjoying the sights and wildlife that abound along its flow.

“I’m not one to challenge whitewater rapids or crazy currents,” says Luce. “For me,
kayaking is a way to relax and get close to nature. I see all sorts of flora and fauna when I
head out on my Sea Eagles. There are many species of waterfowl and birds like egrets,
pelicans, black-bellied whistling ducks, wood stalks, roseate spoonbill and diving
anhinga. Plenty of other creatures cross my bow as well, including a variety of turtle
species, frogs and alligators – some topping eight feet in length.”

One of many creatures Bob comes across when he paddles.

A photo buff at heart, Luce is always looking for his next great wildlife shot. The
problem, he says, is that he’s also framing a lot of garbage floating on the water and
littering the banks in some of the captures he takes. “There’s enough trash along my
favorite stretches of river that it seriously detracts from the experience,” he laments.
“Rather than complain about it, I just clean it up. That’s how I got into kayaking.”

Originally, Luce viewed most of his river corridor wildlife from shore. It was in 2011, he
says, that he started picking up litter along the shoreline of a small creek that ran behind
his Tampa Bay townhouse, and from the Hillsborough River around Temple Crest Park.
As he began removing more and more trash from the riverbanks, he soon realized he
needed a way to both haul the debris and gather more of it from areas he couldn’t access
by foot.

“I couldn’t believe how much trash was in the water in what could be beautiful places,”
he recalls. “I figured the city, county or state would clean it up at some point, but some of
that stuff was decades old. No one was taking responsibility for picking it up, so I
decided to do it myself.”

Just some of the litter Bob collects.

Investing in a pair of chest waders, litter grabbers and 18- and 42-gallon garbage bags
helped Luce reach and remove more junk but came with an assortment of pitfalls. “I
couldn’t carry everything I could gather, and there were drop-offs in the river where I
might flood my waders,” he explains. “Then there were the alligators. It’s not a good idea to be in the water with them, especially if Momma suspects you are intruding on her nest.”

Mama and her babies.

Eventually, Luce added a 16-foot extendable pool pole to his clean-up arsenal, but it still
wasn’t long enough to reach all the litter he wanted to grab. That’s when he decided to
give kayaking a try. “I’ve had tremendous success with Sea Eagle inflatable kayaks,” he
says. “In fact, several different models have served me well over the years. Each was
chosen for its toughness, the amount of trash it could transport, and the degree of
maneuverability I needed during the time of its use. Being lightweight, easy to inflate and
relatively inexpensive were also big selling points, as was the ability to smoothly and
quietly approach wildlife on the rivers while creating as little disturbance as possible.”

Luce began his prospecting with a two-person, 11’ 2”, 500-pound capacity Sea Eagle
. From there, he stepped up to the three-person, 12’ 6”, 635-pound capacity
FastTrack™ 385ft. Next came the Explorer 380x, a three-person inflatable with an
impressive maximum load capacity of 750 pounds. Recently, he stepped back down to a
one-person, 9’ 10” Explorer 300x with a 395-pound load capacity.

“I liked that Sea Eagle kayaks are built tough and feature three or four air chambers
depending on the model,” continues Luce. “Their stability, 1000 Denier reinforced
material, and the removeable high pressure drop-stitch floor on some models, also add to
their overall performance. For me, though, the toughness, multiple chambers and load
capacity have been key since I haul a lot of junk and frequently push up against
shorelines with broken branches, cypress knees and who knows what sharp-edge debris
might be lurking in the shallow water.”

Once, Luce stepped into his FastTrack 385ft without knowing a shard of glass was stuck
in the bottom of his boot. He punctured the floor on that vessel but was impressed that,
with three separate air chambers, he had no problem paddling back to the launch ramp
even with a heavy boatload of trash. “I patched that kayak and it was ready go again
almost immediately,” he says with a chuckle.

Overall, the ability of the 380x to carry a lot of gear and haul a load of trash made it
Luce’s favorite overall Sea Eagle inflatable choice, but as he became more enthralled
with photographing alligators, he decided to trade the extra load capacity for the
additional speed and extra maneuverability afforded by the 300x.

“I needed something that could back up and get me out of trouble quickly if I was going
to be taking more photos of the big reptiles,” he explains. “It’s important to keep a safe
buffer between you and the creatures but even then, you’ll sometimes want to get out of
Dodge should a ‘gator seem overly annoyed or aggressive. The 300x responds quickly to
your paddle strokes, turns on a dime, and still has ample load capacity. I pile on my litter
grabbers, extendable pool pole, tubs and bags for the junk I gather, and also carry a
cooler with water and something to eat, plus my camera gear. Sometimes, as I paddle
home, it’s hard to see over all the trash I pile onto that ‘yak.”

Top left: Juvenile Little Blue Heron ruffling its feathers before bathing. Top right: Immature Little Blue Heron foraging. Bottom left: Roseate Spoonbills posing for a photo. Bottom right: Wood Stork stretching its wings.

The types of trash Luce has gathered from Tampa Bay’s river systems over the years is
extensive. Most surprising, he reveals, was the loaded pistol he found and turned over to
the police. Other items include television sets, shopping carts, tires, discarded electronic
equipment and fire extinguishers. The most common articles include plastic water bottles,
plastic bags, beer cans, Styrofoam, and all kinds like paper plates, cups and packaging.
He’s never actually weighed a haul of trash removed from the rivers, but does suspect his
heaviest included several large trash bags of trash plus three car tires balanced on his

Bob in one of his first Sea Eagle® inflatable kayaks, the original FastTrack™ 385ft. Sadly, you never know what you’ll find in the water.

“People see me cleaning up the shoreline and sometimes offer to help, but I prefer to
work alone,” reveals Luce. “It gets two chatty to capture good wildlife photos when other
people join in. I do, however, encourage people anywhere to clean up their own waters if
they feel so inclined. I just like to keep my own efforts generally under the radar.”

Press him on the subject and Luce will admit Father Time is slowing him down a bit.
Still, as long as he can continue to get close to the wildlife on the rivers he loves, he plans
to keep heading out, cleaning up and taking photos.

“Some days, it’s like a religious experience that refreshes my soul, he states. “When it’s
nice and quiet, I can get some really great shots of birds in their nests, alligators, turtles,
frogs, dragonflies and more,” he adds with soft-spoken pride. “It is, after all, the wildlife –
not the junk – that draws me to the water.”

Happy to see Bob?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.