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Environment: Swept by Irene, beaches due for a gentler touch

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

South Carolina’s recent brush with Hurricane Irene undoubtedly did some damage to the coast, but it will also make an upcoming clean-up effort easier on volunteers.

The storm will have washed the trash that collects on the beach up to the dunes, so it should be very easy to find and pick up, said Frank Johnson of Hagley, chief meteorologist at WBTW.

“It’s usually scattered all over the beach,” he said.

Johnson is organizing a team to help clean up at Pawleys Island on Sept. 17, the day of the 23rd annual state Beach and River Sweep. Teams will pick up trash from 9 a.m. to noon and keep an inventory of their findings.

This is Johnson’s first year as a team leader. Volunteers will meet at the South End parking lot at 9 a.m.

The sweep, organized by the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium and S.C. Department of Natural Resources, takes place in conjunction with the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup. Thousands around the state participate, including individuals, families, schools, youth groups, civic and conservation clubs, and businesses. Last year, they picked up nearly 24 tons of debris.

Trash bags will be provided for sweep volunteers, but it’s a good idea to bring gloves, said Rachel Harrington, who is coordinating the clean-up at Huntington Beach State Park and North Litchfield Beach. Her team meets at the parking lot in front of the park store.

She usually gets about 50 participants who pick up 10 to 20 pounds of trash on the park’s three-mile stretch of beach and an additional mile in North Litchfield.

“And that’s just the beaches,” Harrington said. “If we have enough people, we try to get participants in other areas of the park, like the oyster landing and along our causeway.”

As of this week, fewer than 20 were signed up on Harrington’s team. Johnson was anticipating 25 to 30 on Pawleys Island. But Bob Insley, who coordinates the clean-up for Hagley Landing and the North and South Causeways, said he is expecting only a

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handful of volunteers.

“My group used to have 12 or 15 people,” he said. But as people have gotten older or moved away, the numbers have dropped to about half that.

Insley has been organizing a team for the sweep for about a decade and put together his own clean-ups long before that, back in the early 1970s when he was a teacher at Winyah and Georgetown high schools.

The most common items picked up by Harrington’s team are cigarette butts and fireworks, she said. Insley finds plenty of cigarette butts, too, but also flip-flops, coolers, diapers and lots of fishing- and hunting-related gear.

“Fortunately we don’t live in a place where people discard appliances” at landings and other water bodies, Insley said.

He once found a message in a bottle that was released at Pawleys Island by a third-grader as part of a school project. The bottle only made it as far as Pawleys Creek.

Keeping area waters clean is vital not only for the health of those waters, but for people to continue to enjoy the state’s natural resources, Harrington said.

But beyond that, the clean-ups themselves are a lot of fun.

“Any chance to get out onto the beach is not really a work day,” she said.

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To find more clean-up teams on the coast, visit S.C. Sea Grantor call Susan Ferris Hill, (843) 953-2092. For inland teams, visit S.C. Department of Natural Resources or call Bill Marshall, (803) 734-9096.

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