H.E. McCracken Middle School teacher Susan Dee wants her students to learn that picking up trash is not a punishment.
"I want them to be involved in protecting our environment, especially because this ecosystem is so unique," she said Saturday during the 22nd annual Beach Sweep/River Sweep in Bluffton, part of a statewide effortorganized by the S.C. Sea Grant Consortium and S.C. Department of Natural Resources that saw volunteers cleaning up beaches and marshes across the Palmetto State. "In our society, so many times we see picking up trash as sentencing for criminals or bad behavior. If it's fun for the students, they still get the idea and they'll come back."
About 20 students were on the job at 9 a.m. Saturday to walk along Bridge Street and in to the coves of the May River, collecting litter and making the area a little cleaner.
The group collected cigarette butts, bottles and food packaging, trash they left in bags along Bridge Street for pickup on Monday.
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But that wasn't all they found.
When the work was done, they downed juice and snacks provided by Walmart and shared their more interesting finds from the coves at low tide.
Some of the debris would have seemed more at home in a junkyard rather than in the town's waterways. There were car windows and several fenders. Amanda Maietta and Katherine Greig, both 9th graders at the Bluffton school, picked up a hubcap in Heyward Cove.
Clearing the town's coves is an important part of the volunteer event to prevent debris from ending up in the May River, Bluffton Natural Resources Manager Kim Jones said.
"We all need to do our part for a river we all enjoy," Jones said.
About 40 volunteers helped out in Bluffton.
S.C. Sea Grant Consortium coordinator Susan Ferry Hill, who helped organize the statewide effort, estimates about 6,000 volunteers pitched in statewide. Across Beaufort County, 1,500 volunteers hit the shores and beaches, from Fripp, St. Helena and Daufuskie islands to Hilton Head Island.
Hill, who has been organizing the sweep for a decade, said an average of 50 tons of garbage is picked across the state on sweep day.
Volunteers tallied their finds in categories ranging from beach activities to construction. The SC Sea Grant uses the data to target educational outreach on litter control and will release the figures in a few weeks.
"That will help by getting information out to people about how much trash is actually out there so they can take responsibility for not leaving their stuff on the beach," said Fripp Island director of recreation and head naturalist Collins Strickland, who served as a site captain on the island.