Sunglasses, bottles ... and a gator?

Pat McArthur, assistant Boy Scout master of Troop 502, picks up trash along Coleman Boulevard between Mount Pleasant and Sullivan's Island on Saturday.

Beach Sweep/River Sweep volunteers find a potpourri of debris during cleanup

Volunteers with the annual Beach Sweep/River Sweep expect to see their share of cigarette butts, broken beer bottles and other debris.

But a Porter Gaud High School student came across something else entirely while picking up trash on Sullivan's Island: a 6 1/2 foot alligator.

Lt. William Topping of the Sullivan's Island Fire Department said the student had spotted what she thought were the remnants of a rubber tire in some bushes, but when she reached to pick it up, the alligator's tail swung around and smacked her on her shin. The student's name was not released, but Topping said she was not injured.

"She took off running, I guess," Topping said.

The fire department contacted the S.C. Department of Natural Resources and had the alligator removed.

"Thank goodness nobody was hurt," S.C. Sea Grant Consortium Director of Communications Susan Ferris Hill said.

The consortium and the Department of Natural Resources organizes the Beach Sweep/River Sweep each year, which involves thousands of people across South Carolina scouring state beaches, lakes, marshes, swamps and rivers.

Ferris Hill said it is "highly unusual" for volunteers to run across an alligator. She said she hopes it doesn't deter volunteers from participating with the cause in the future.

About 5,100 volunteers came out this year, and about half of those volunteers worked at sites throughout Charleston.

Nearly 200 volunteers filed into the Isle of Palms Exchange Club early to pick up trash bags and find out their assigned spots. They included a mom whose three young children tagged along, some Cub Scout troops and about 40 Bishop England students.

Bishop England sophomore Eric Stungurys said it felt good to participate in the statewide clean-up effort. The students were from the school's Key Club and had been assigned to clean Breach Inlet.

For Stungurys and his friends — seniors Cathryn Soltis and Zack Kynoski, both 17 — the beach sweep turned out to be more like a treasure hunt.

Their chaperone, Key Club Moderator Andrea Bunting, found a pair of grungy, bent sunglasses, and Kynoski asked if he could keep them. But Bunting tossed them in the trash bag that Stungurys held.

When they came across a peculiar lump of straw and sea scrap near the shore, they all honed in for a closer look.

"It's coral," Soltis concluded. "I'm not picking that up."

But to Stungurys, it was like striking gold. "It's got paper in it. Sweet! Jackpot!" he said, as he scooped up the whole pile and added it to his trash bag.

Last year, more than 23,500 pounds of debris were collected and about 280 miles were covered along the state's coast.