SURFSIDE BEACH — Brana Williams wanted her two young children to learn an early lesson: Respect others as well as the environment.
Zeb and Katie Arnold, 8 and 7 years old, respectively, walked along the beach near the Surfside Beach pier early Saturday morning, picking up any trash they could find while their mother, Williams, held a plastic bag open for them.
As the sunlight struck the ocean shortly after 9 a.m., giving the water a pristine, sparkling quality, it was a marked contrast with all the cigarette butts the Arnolds and around 70 other young children were finding in the sand.
“Cigarette thingies are yucky,” Katie said.
Discarded butts were the item most found along the Grand Strand during Saturday’s 24th annual Beach-River Sweep, the state’s largest one-day cleanup of beaches, marshes and waterways.
Participants and organizers of the sweep say the butts are not only an eyesore, but a risk to both small children and sea life.
“I think everyone expects it to be the biggest thing they find. But at the same time, it’s still very discouraging,” said Amanda Sturgeon, who oversaw 28 volunteers that scoured the area between Eighth and Second avenues north in Myrtle Beach.
Those volunteers, Sturgeon said, collected approximately 39.75 pounds of trash. Within that garbage was 8,700 cigarette butts.
Last year, Sturgeon said her group amassed 4,100 butts. Still, she couldn’t say for certain whether that year over year increase meant there were more butts on the beach this time around, or if it was merely because she had more volunteers this year than at any other beach sweep.
Bruxanne Hein’s 55 volunteers, who covered ground in Myrtle Beach and Garden City Beach, amassed 200 pounds of garbage. Their experience was similar to Sturgeon’s group.
“Cigarette butts were again huge this year,” Hein said.
Susan Ferris Hill, with the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium, said improperly discarded cigarette butts take at least seven years to break down.
As for the impact on ocean life, she remembered a study performed by students in which small sea animals were placed in containers of saltwater along with cigarette butts.
“They did notice mortality,” Hill said, although she couldn’t remember exactly where the experiment took place.
A 2010 study conducted by researchers at San Diego State University and San Diego’s Nautilus Environmental concluded that smoked cigarette butts, smoked cigarette filters and unsmoked cigarette filters were all found to be “acutely toxic to representative marine and freshwater fish.”
Another concern is small children picking up the cigarette butts while on the beach and eating them.
A study by the Centers for Disease Control on small children who ate cigarette butts found that a third of them experienced symptoms such as vomiting, nausea, gagging, lethargy and a flushed appearance.
Litter with a bang
Cigarette butts weren’t the only pieces of garbage volunteers found that could possibly be ingested by children.
Hein said fireworks remnants are starting to rival cigarette butts in their frequency.
In fact, her group saw an 18-month-old walking on the beach Saturday and putting fireworks remnants in his mouth.
“From that standpoint alone, it’s good to get it off the beach,” Hein said.
Hill, who didn’t have total figures compiled for the amount of trash collected in Horry County by late Saturday afternoon, said yet another frequent customer is plastic bags.
To sea creatures like whales, dolphins and sea turtles, a plastic bag floating in the ocean can appear to be a jellyfish. The animals then eat the plastic, which gets caught in their digestive tract and can prove fatal, Hill said.
And while littering continues, Hill was excited over the number of volunteers who came out to clean the beaches. Across the Grand Strand, 1,750 participants scoured 30 different locations looking for trash.
“That’s really good participation,” Hill said. “You guys have a lot of area to cover.”
In 2011, 513 volunteers picked up trash in Horry and Georgetown counties, according to reported data from the SCSGC. They collected approximately 3,038 pounds of garbage.
For Brana Williams and her children, Saturday meant doing their part to keep the Grand Strand clean. Both kids were enthusiastically searching for any piece of trash they could find,
Those cigarette butts were getting out of the sand and into a trash bag.
“The beach is for everyone to enjoy,” said husband Jim Williams.
Contact BRAD DICKERSON at 626-0301.