Whether it’s St. Augustine’s rejuvenating beaches or its calming rivers, our waterways draw locals and tourists from near and far. The next time you’re enjoying them, you might remember a local advocate on a mission to keep them clean. Jessica Gott is president and founder of North Florida Coastal Caretakers (NFCC), a non-profit organization committed to keeping our beaches and rivers free of unwelcome debris.
Raised in a military family, Jessica was born in Germany before growing up in Texas, and eventually relocating to Florida. She has called St. Augustine home for six years. Jessica was an athletic kid. She played volleyball, basketball, and ran track. But she wasn’t one dimensional. Looking back, she describes herself as a “tomboy princess.” After moving to Orlando, Jessica attended UCF with initial aspirations of travel writing. She earned a degree in Humanities and is now a certified paralegal specializing in environmental and land use law. Jessica is mommy to a Yorkie-Maltese named Tiffany who is a princess in her own right. You may have seen Tiffany grace the pages of St. Augustine Humane Society calendars over the years.
Jessica remembers the moment that sparked her foray into activism – it was on the Fourth of July some years ago when she saw a man flick a cigarette butt onto the beach. She assumed he was a tourist. When she realized he was a resident, Jessica thought, “How could he do that to his own beach?” In time, she messaged eight friends – inviting them to join her for an informal beach clean up. They all attended and brought friends along. “Everyone had such a great time,” recalls Jessica. Demand for more events increased. Regarding initial enthusiasm, Jessica says, “If I didn’t have that, it probably would have ended there. It’s so rewarding to hear ‘I am never using a plastic water bottle again.’ That’s the kind of impact we’re trying to make.”
Becoming acquainted with local environmentalist, Adam Morley, was another significant part of Jessica’s journey. She has an extensive food and beverage background, and Adam was one of her regular customers. He always ordered beverages without a straw. This led to conversations about protecting the environment. Adam encouraged Jessica to formally spear-head her own non-profit. In January 2016, NFCC was born, and a 501(c)(3) was established.
In terms of new goals, Jessica says, “I’d like to see changes in legislation at the local level.” An ordinance proposing a single-use carryout bag ban within St. Augustine Beach was recently drafted. The month of April saw the test run of a reusable bag program. In May, feedback was given to city commissioners. This is all part of Jessica’s vision of changing consumer habits beyond recycling.
When she isn’t spearheading river and beach cleanups, Jessica and her boyfriend Jeremy go boating, attend fundraisers, and chow down at Meehan’s. Jessica recently made a personal decision to go vegan. “I cannot preach to people about single-use plastic and littering when I’m not doing everything I can.” For Jessica, it’s a commitment to personal integrity and freeness of speech.
If Jessica’s experiences to date are any indication, this Renaissance woman is only getting started.