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Danger On The Beach

By Mary Pringle for The Island Eye News

Turtle Team member Nancy Evens stands in a 5-foot-deep hole near the Ocean Club Villas in Wild Dunes. (Photo by Penny Gorby.)

It has always been a mystery to us why some people think it’s really fun to bring large shovels to the beach and dig large, deep holes. Why not just enjoy the beach by swimming, building sandcastles or playing games with balls? A 2018 article by Kristin Joson in the Ocean City Times in Florida pointed out that normally digging holes is a chore – but, for some reason, when you go to the beach, it’s a really fun way to pass the time.

Over the last decade, dozens of young people have died when they dug deep holes and then tried to make a tunnel between them, only to have the tunnel collapse and suffocate them.

When someone is buried under sand and struggles to get free, the sand naturally compacts, making it even more difficult to get out. The rule in Ocean City is that no hole can be more than knee deep on the smallest person in the group. The author of the article said she saw an 11-year-old boy get trapped and buried alive when a tunnel he was digging collapsed. She was amazed that it took 40 people almost 30 minutes to dig him out. CPR was required to save him; he was lucky to survive.

 Harvard researcher Bradley Maron, who has been tracking sand hole collapses worldwide for the past decade, said that 60% have been fatal.

 Holes on the beach can also be dangerous for bikers or runners who exercise at night.

On the Isle of Palms, beach services officers use a vehicle with a shovel on the front to fill in deep holes that are a danger to the public, but they cannot handle this task if they don’t know where the holes are.

This beach season, we have been inundated with day trippers and visitors from other states who are desperate to get to the beach after being quarantined because of stay-athome orders due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unfortunately, most of them will never see this article, but perhaps local residents can help. Some mornings, Turtle Team members have reported a dozen or more holes left on the beach – some as large as hot tubs.

 It hasn’t happened here yet, but elsewhere, nesting sea turtles have fallen into large holes when they come ashore to nest and have been trapped and even killed from a broken neck or suffocation. And, of course, hatchlings only two inches in length would have little chance of climbing out of a hole even half a foot deep.

On June 17, a loggerhead tried to nest on the beach at 710 Ocean Blvd. on the Isle of Palms but encountered two holes about a foot or 2 deep. She almost fell into them and then returned to the ocean without laying eggs. It is sad that people do not realize what a danger these holes are to people and to sea turtles.

What to do if you see a large hole on the beach:

• If the diggers are still there, in a friendly, nonconfrontational way, try to educate them about this being a loggerhead nesting beach and that deep holes are a danger to people and to turtles. Ask them if they would please fill in the hole before they leave.

• If the hole is small and you can fill it yourself, please do so. If you find a hole that has been dug and abandoned, you can report it to the Isle of Palms Police at 843-886-6522 to have it filled by beach services. If you see a hole on Sullivan’s Island, you can tell the Fire and Rescue Squad/Public Works Department by calling 843-883-9944.

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