By The Isle of Palms Cleanup Crew for Island Eye News
Isle of Palms Cleanup Crew volunteers recorded collecting more than 23,000 pieces of trash on the beach during a series of 11 sweeps this summer, according to data logged with tools and guidance from the South Carolina Aquarium.
Their haul included at least 10,240 plastic items and 8,424 smoking-related items – mostly cigarette butts, which also contain tiny plastic pieces in their filters.
From the last week in June through Labor Day, Isle of Palms Cleanup Crew volunteers gathered each Monday evening to collect trash with a focus on the island’s popular Front Beach.
A South Carolina Aquarium team helped greet volunteers and encouraged them to track the garbage they collected, either with an oldfashioned handout that listed trash categories, or the aquarium’s new Citizen Science App, which is available to anyone in the public to use for free.
Conservation Programs Manager Kelly Thorvalson said the primary objective of the South Carolina Aquarium Citizen Science App is to help inform communities about the environmental issues they face.
“We were happy to help the Isle of Palms Cleanup Crew track the impact of their efforts in the Litter-free Digital Journal, a tool within the Citizen Science App,” she said. “Because the 11 Isle of Palms Cleanup Crew sweeps were so consistent in location, duration, and interval, they provide great insight into what’s happening on the beach during high season. The sheer number of cigarette butts and plastics documented week after week is startling.”
It’s important to note that Isle of Palms Cleanup Crew collected even more trash during its summer sweeps than what was recorded because participation with the Litter-free Digital Journal was optional.
Katrina Limbach, an owner of Isle of Palms Beach Chair Company, and City Council Member Susan Hill Smith came together at the start of summer to create Isle of Palms Cleanup Crew, which operates as an independent entity with the support of local businesses and environmental organizations.
The effort taps into the community’s growing desire to keep the beach clean and protect the health of marine ecosystems, which have been overwhelmed by an escalating amount of garbage, especially plastics. The sweeps also provide a social component as volunteers gather after each sweep at a local restaurant.
“We were blown away by the response we received from so many corners, not to mention the volunteer turnout from week to week,” Limbach said. “We hope to continue that momentum with monthly off-season sweeps, which we are starting Oct. 8.”
Each of the 11 summer sweeps attracted at least 35- 40 volunteers, but more often twice that amount. Three sweeps pulled in around 100 or more people, including a shared event with Surfrider Foundation’s Charleston Chapter and Coastal Conservation League.
Some volunteers arrived with friends, family members or coworkers, while others came out on their own and met new people. Church groups, Boy Scout troops and even the Charleston Southern Women’s Basketball Team helped rally attendance.
Regular Howard Hogue of Moncks Corner – a.k.a. Beach Santa because of the uncanny resemblance – was already spending countless hours picking up at the beach. Each time he joined Isle of Palms Cleanup Crew, he would collect more than 400 pieces of trash as an aquarium volunteer shadowed him and logged the stats.
Isle of Palms Cleanup Crew 2018 Premier Sponsors included Acme Lowcountry Kitchen and Isle of Palms Beach Chair Company. Additional sponsors included Coconut Joe’s’, The Windjammer, Banana Cabana, The Dinghy, The Boathouse, SC Department of Natural Resources, Surfrider Foundation Charleston Chapter, Mic Smith Photography LLC and Cafe Panamé.