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Operation Splash!

I used to be tall, but at my age, I’ve been in my shrinking stage for a while. What I have lost in height has been gained on my “Grog Belly”. When I’m with people of my generation, I still rate in height. When I met Bob Weltner, the director of Operation Splash at their headquarters on Freeport’s Nautical Mile, I became critically aware of my “Shortening”. It was humiliating asking for a ladder just to talk to Bob “eye to eye”. He is a big man in height, voice, and ability. Bob went through the entire operation with me with his fine sense of humor laced in.
Yet, when it comes to Operation Splash and its mission, Bob is truly dedicated.

Operation Splash was founded by Joanne Grover during a summer college break in 1990. I have met her famous father, Al Grover Sr. made a world record by crossing the Atlantic with an outboard in one of his Grover Built boats. Joanne started in a canoe and by 1995 had graduated to her first real boat and a few dedicated friends cleaning up the Freeport and Hempstead Bay waters. Thirty-four years later, over 3 million, plus, plus, plus, tons of garbage have been removed from Debs Inlet to Islip with a fleet of boats and contingents of volunteers. Officially named “Operation Splash” in 1999
They reported asbestos runoff from the Meadow Brook Parkway into the bay which was remediated. By 2001 they had removed “One Million Pounds” of marine debris and garbage from local waterways. This speaks so highly of Operation Splash and rather lowly of how “We the people’’ treat our natural resources. The next year Splash expanded into Wantagh; I often see their boat in the town marina.
The next years were taken up by not only doing their regular boat gigs but also building debris traps on some of the local creeks, which won them an Environmental Award. Seeing their dedication and growth, it was time I started to refrain from throwing my beer bottles and lawn debris into the cove I was on. I’ve been pretty good about it most of the time writing this article, I have to make a solid commitment. Lord knows I don’t want to be a phony! I’ll just take this empty and toss it in my neighbor’s yard-Let him deal with it!

Soon Operation Splash was successfully extending its range and impact by placing boats in East Rockaway, Massapequa, and Babylon. After Super Storm Sandy they collected 50 home oil tanks, one of which was mine and I’d like to get it back, but if I don’t, it’s not a deal breaker, I finish the article anyway. During this time Splash is working to get storm drain filters in place (We need one on every drain.) All during safe boatable weather Splash is out there doing what they are best at, keeping the bay free from trash so that the shores of our wetlands and the water itself offer waterfowl, birds, fish,
Wetland animals like raccoons, muskrats, foxes, and even seals, have a decent habitat in which to live or visit. We are the biggest visitors of all and we tend to do the most damage, which Splash remediates.
Bob handles day-to-day operations and it’s a big job. Just maintaining all their boats is a mammoth task. During each winter Bob’s volunteer crew keeps them painted and presentable, which makes a great impression on the public. All mechanical issues are dealt with and every vessel gets a complete safety clearance. Most of these boats were donated and were in dubious condition but Bob and his crew make them look like cruise ships, only there’s no “all you can eat” buffets served on board to get you sick and no kids running around in mouse ears and princess costumes.
Additionally, their education programs enlighten children from 2nd grade through 12th which makes sure that approximately 5,000 per year give or take, become the eyes that watch out for our shore environments. They have additional classes for teachers at all levels including university plus many community initiatives all of which you can find on Splash’s website At the headquarters in Freeport, Bob took me on a tour of an almost auditorium-sized display and lecture facility decorated with images of fish, birds, Wetlands -You name it.
Bob is very proud of what Splash accomplishes. Once he was an electrician. Now saving the bays and wetlands electrify him. I remember how he told me years ago how as a licensed scuba diver he would swim to the bottom of one of our bridges and just sit there when the water moves slowly between the tides. He would see schools of bass and bluefish, big fluke too.
All while the guys fishing above were catching nothing. He would let the crabs and creatures crawl all over him but quite frankly, his Mermaid story I didn’t buy into. I just let him believe I was a sucker for that one. Bob will be giving a lecture with Robyn Silvestri of Save the Great South Bay at The Walt Whitman Birthplace Interpretive Center later in the year. It is part of a five-part ecological series I put together as a Trustee of this State Park Historical Site.
To sum it all up, what Joanne Grover, Bob Weltner, and all the volunteers continue to accomplish is mothering less than amazing. I have never had the pleasure of meeting Joanne.
I hope someday I do. I admire her spirit and dedication starting from such a young age and continuing. Bob Weltner-What can I say, a man on a mission. The volunteers, I’d take my hat off to them, except I’m inside and not wearing one.
I guess I should get that beer bottle out of my neighbor’s yard
Before it ends up in the wrong place.

Copyright for article by Mark C. Nuccio. All rights reserved
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