The Tide - notes in the ebb and flow of news

The debris included a blue plastic barrel, a boat’s seat cushion, a crab trap, four old shoes and at least 10 full garbage bags.

Forty-five volunteers collected it along Wassaw Island’s otherwise pristine beaches Sunday as part of a Clean Coast beach cleanup. The Savannah-based nonprofit holds monthly excursions to local barrier islands and marsh areas to haul off all the trash they can find. It’s a win for the natural areas and a win for the volunteers, said Skidaway Island resident Ruth Goldstein, who was participating in her third cleanup.

“I do it because it’s a great way to get out on the water to do something concrete that feels like helping,” she said. “It’s a nice way to meet other people, to get out and see really special places with not much money. It’s an inexpensive way to get out on the water once a month.

“It’s also satisfying at day’s end to see what you’ve helped collect, she said. “Every time I pick up a balloon or a plastic bag I feel like I’m saving a turtle.”

  • Volunteers hitch a ride back to the Clean Coast boats after collecting trash.
  • Kris Williams Carroll of the Caretta Research Project transports trash her volunteers have collected to waiting boats so Clean Coast can dispose of it on the mainland.
  • A sign on Wassaw Island indicates it's managed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
  • A volunteer hands out compostable trash bags on the beach at Wassaw Island.
  • Clean Coast's skipp, captained by Philip Grainey, hauls the collected trash off island.
  • Clean Coast volunteers walk the beach searching for trash.
  • Clean Coast volunteers walk the beach searching for trash.
  • Clean Coast volunteers load up the skiff with trash they collected on Wassaw.
  • A sea turtle nest on Wassaw Island is covered in mesh to thwart predators.
  • Wrack and dune plants trap litter that washes up with the tide.
  • A sand dollar washed up on the beach at Wassaw.
  • Clean Coast Board President Karen Grainey on her way to Wassaw.

Clean Coast Board President Karen Grainey said decades of regular beach sweeps seem to be making a difference, including on the six miles of beaches on Wassaw, a national wildlife refuge. Volunteers find much less trash than they used to find. Not that she’s complaining.

“It would be perverse of us to be disappointed we didn’t find more,” she said.

Clean Coast began unofficially in the late 1980s when SCAD photographer Larry Shaffield started taking students to nearby islands for clean ups. Shaffield was loosely affiliated with a University of Georgia cleanup program, begun after an international treaty banned the release of plastic garbage from ships, said Clean Coast Board Secretary Philip Grainey, who is married to Karen. The group incorporated as a nonprofit in 1991 with the help of Savannah attorney Clete Bergen, who remains active with the group, hosting its annual fundraising oyster roast.

Clean Coast Board President Karen Grainey on her way to Wassaw.
Clean Coast Board President Karen Grainey on her way to Wassaw. Credit: Mary Landers/The Current

Clean Coast owns a 24-foot Carolina skiff that Philip Grainey typically pilots to  each cleanup to haul off trash. Local boat owners offer their services to get as many volunteers as possible to the target island or marsh, paying for the fuel themselves. On Sunday, eight private boats created a small armada to ferry volunteers to Wassaw. 

One of them belonged to first-time volunteer Robert Cope. Clean Coast Board Member Connie Polk, who knows Cope from the Chatham Sailing Club, recruited him for the effort.

The 51-year-old Cope, whose late brother was a commercial shrimper, grew up on the water in Savannah. He never owned a boat while his brother was alive – he didn’t need to, he said – but since he passed away in 2012 Cope has owned eight, with the 21-foot Key West center console he piloted Sunday being his latest purchase.

He was happy to help bring volunteers to Wassaw.

“Mother Nature gives to me,” he said. “I figured I’d give back to Mother Nature.”

St. Catherines cleanup

Keep Liberty Beautiful is organizing its annual beach cleanup on Sept. 9 on St. Catherines Island. See the organization’s Facebook page for more information.

Volunteers don’t need a boat to participate but additional boat owners who can assist with transporting people are always needed. It’s free to go on cleanups, but participants are encouraged to become Clean Coast members to help defray the group’s costs, including fuel, insurance and boat maintenance. The organization has no paid staff.

For non-members, a voluntary donation of $10 or more per trip is requested but not required.

On Sunday, Clean Coast worked in collaboration with the Caretta Research Project, a long-running nonprofit research group that monitors and studies sea turtles nesting on Wassaw. Caretta volunteers, who typically stay on the island for a week at a time in groups of six beginning each May, pick up trash as they find it. By late August they had stashed a large pile behind the dunes. 

Caretta Research Project Director Kris Williams Carroll ferried the trash by ATV back to the waiting skiff to be carted off the island. 

“They take so much trash off,” Carroll said. “We don’t want the trash to get out into the ocean where it breaks into microplastics.”

Ocean plastics presentation

As part of the Evening @ Skidaway program, “22,000 Pieces of Plastic in the Ocean for Every Person on Earth: How Did We Get Here?,” with Jay Brandes will be held 7 p.m. Sept. 12, in the McGowan Library at the UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography, 10 Ocean Science Circle, Savannah.

The program is open to the public and free of charge.

To view the program online, visit the UGA Skidaway Institute YouTube channel.  

Microplastics, typically less than 5 mm long, are ubiquitous in much of the ocean. UGA Skidaway Institute of Oceanography scientist Jay Brandes has found microplastics in almost every water sample he’s taken on the Georgia coast. Beach sweeps are one way to help reduce the amount of plastic in the ocean, the Oceanic Society suggests.

While most of the 45 volunteers came from Chatham County, several on Sunday made the trip from Liberty. Among them were Eva St. Onge, a Lewis Frasier Middle School teacher; and Britta D’Angelo, a board member of the group Keep Liberty Beautiful. That organization does a similar beach cleanup on St. Catherines Island annually. This year’s event is scheduled for Sept. 9.

“It’s amazing what you can haul off in one day,” said D’Angelo, who snagged glass out of the trash pile to recycle it.

The Tide brings regular notes and observations on news and events by The Current staff.

Mary Landers is a reporter in Coastal Georgia focusing on the environment for The Current. It's a topic she covered for nearly 24 years at the Savannah Morning News, where she began and ended her time...