Morris Island trash target of volunteer effort

Trash on Morris Island during a recent visit there by Andrew Wunderley of Charleston Waterkeeper. A volunteer cleanup of the island is planned for Saturday.

A spring cleaning of Morris Island on Saturday aims to remove tons of trash that litters its shoreline and poses a threat to marine life.

“It’s incredible the amount of debris that is collecting over there,” said Katie Zimmerman, program director for air, water and public health at the Coastal Conservation League.

Some 50 volunteers have signed up for the effort and more are welcome.

“We’ve got a serious situation. We’re going to focus on plastics. It’s important to prevent that stuff from getting into the waterways,” said Andrew Wunderley of Charleston Waterkeeper.

Some 7 tons of plastic are estimated to be breaking down to microplastics in the tide and waves around Charleston Harbor at any given time, according to a study led by Citadel physiology professor John Weinstein. Sooner or later, a portion of that waste gets eaten by marine critters, such as shrimp, and works its way up the food chain. On top of that, recent research has shown the plastics pick up toxins in the water before they are eaten.

Rudy Socha, CEO of Wounded Nature, helped haul away a dumpster full of Morris Island debris last spring.

“We actually found a 4-foot barbecue grill out there,” he said.

Island debris also has included an abandoned boat, soda cans, plastic cups and lumber treated with a pesticide that leaches into the environment.

Socha said some 140 miles of state’s tourist beaches get cleaned regularly, but hundreds of miles of beaches in remote areas rarely, if ever, get swept. Marine trash and debris are often hidden from view in brush or marsh grasses.

In addition to causing water pollution, the refuse can entangle wildlife or make animals sick when they ingest it, he said.

Wounded Nature also is cleaning-up Pritchard Island — a Beaufort County island that, like Morris Island, is accessible only by boat.

“It’s the tidal marshes that generate the next generation of seafood. Most of these tidal areas have never been cleaned up,” he said.

Folly Beach will station an emergency medical technician on the island during the beach sweep on Saturday. That city’s public works department will help dispose of what’s collected.

“We think it’s a great effort to keep all of this garbage from filling our creeks and rivers,” said City Administrator Spencer Wetmore.

There are no more spaces available on the two vessels ferrying volunteers to Morris Island for the cleanup, but the Coastal Conservation League said those with their own boats can join with the others at the south end of the island between 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Reach Prentiss Findlay at 843-937-5711.