TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) — Nobody likes to head to the beach only to find that the beautiful shoreline is littered with trash.
The goal of National Clean Beaches Week, which runs from July 1 through July 7, is to shed light on how much trash gets left behind.
It’s no coincidence that the awareness week coincides with Independence Day, which is the most-visited beach day across the United States. Tybee officials are anticipating potentially between 50,000 and 60,000 people on the island for the upcoming holiday weekend.
Another not-so-fun fact: the Fourth of July is also considered the most-littered beach day, according to the Clean Beaches Coalition.
“Naturally, large gatherings like that means lots and lots of trash,” Tim Arnold, an organizer with Tybee Clean Beach Volunteers, told WSAV.com NOW.
Over the past five years, volunteers with his group have dedicated their time to clearing Tybee Beach of whatever garbage beachgoers leave behind.
In addition to the plastic bottles and straws, abandoned towels, shoes and other items found on the sand, Arnold notes that cigarettes are by far the most commonly found item.
“Those filters leach the toxins that they’re designed to trap,” Arnold said. “One or two, it’s not a problem; 10,000 you know, it rains, it just toxifies your beach, basically, so those need to go.”
He’s noticed that by coming out and helping keep the beach clean, many people, including children, have become more aware of just how much impact they can have on the environment. Arnold adds that seeing the problem firsthand is the best way to educate oneself on the issue of beach litter.
“With kids and school groups, when they get here, they’re a little like, ‘I have to do this?’ and when they’re done, they’re just so jazzed up, they’re excited that they’re at the beach all day,” Arnold said.
“They have really great questions, like, ‘why are there so many straws on the ground or on the beach?’ or, ‘who’s throwing these cigarette butts down?’” he said.
The left-behind trash is not only an eyesore, but a potential threat to the health of marine life.
“It’s horrifying, the rate at which plastic is making it into the ocean and being ingested,” Arnold shared, adding that many loggerhead sea turtles live up and down the coasts of Florida, Georgia and South Carolina.
“The reports of endangered dead animals directly caused by ingestion of plastic are just staggering, and this is a problem we could do something about,” he said.
Arnold says recently, the amount of trash found on the beach still seems to be rising despite their efforts.
It’s why as the July Fourth weekend approaches, he hopes that all Tybee Beach visitors leave the shoreline the way they found it.
“Just be aware of the little pieces you might have left behind because sometimes, you don’t even know it,” Arnold said.
“You bring 100 little pieces of something and you take 98, that’s great, but if everybody leaves two, we’ve got a dirty beach, so really take a hard look around when you’re leaving, make sure and just take it with you, throw it in the bin, it makes a huge difference,” he said.
Tybee Clean Beach Volunteers are hosting beach cleanups throughout the summer.