This 70-year-old sailor is the protector of New Jersey's Great Egg Harbor River

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. -- Fred Akers is a lifelong maritime man and superhero for nature.

He remembers growing up by the bay, eventually earning access to his parents' boat. An adolescence of fishing and exploring informed his mission today: keeping the Great Egg Harbor River clean.

A puzzling labyrinth of tributaries and marshes, the "Great Egg" is mostly a sanctuary for wildlife and fishermen alike. However, patches of obscure litter appear purposefully parked on marshes with their mysterious origins washed away by the tide.

Fred Akers doesn't know how everything gets there, but he knows how to get rid of it.

Akers, 70, is the Administrator of the Great Egg Harbor Watershed Association. In 1992, the river was designated into the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System thanks to its cultural and recreational value. This created the council on which Akers has served for 20 years.

12 townships and cities maintain the river, which flows from Berlin, New Jersey, and empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

The river widens thanks to tributaries in Atlantic County that snake into its body. There, you can find Fred Akers sailing on his boat, aptly named, "Great Egg," assessing and picking up trash.

This ranges from plastic bags to full abandoned boats.

Akers takes what he can on his own, but returns with a team for larger removal projects.

Items like balloons and styrofoam can be especially dangerous to wildlife such as Osprey, Bald Eagles, and fish.

"This stuff breaks down. It doesn't biodegrade. It just gets smaller and smaller," Akers said, warning that it can potentially kill such creatures.

"It just seems to be increasing and I think it's related to sea level rise," he said. Higher flood tides are washing objects away, such as entire docks from nearby marinas and river houses.

Akers puts his faith in education to continue the river's legacy. The Great Egg Harbor Watershed Association normally hosts hands-on field trips to provide students an opportunity to spark interest in nature and wildlife.

Never slowing down, Akers hopes to properly dispose of such objects or to reunite them with their owners. He hopes his increased efforts will create a system in which local residents and recreators can make reports when they either lose or find an object.

He encourages anyone with information related to the abandonment or accidental loss of such items to contact him at fred_akers@gehwa.org.

To learn more about the Great Egg and its keepers, visit their website at www.gehwa.org.
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