Floodwaters and storm surge during Hurricane Florence in September caused significant amounts of debris to wash into coastal waterways. Much of the trash is still littering shorelines more than four months after the storm. Volunteers in Atlantic Beach, Rodanthe and Holly Ridge help remove an estimated 6.5 tons of marine debris during a recent cleanup projects.
The North Carolina Coastal Federation has organized the annual coastal cleanup for the past 15 years in an effort to protect wildlife and salt marshes. The land based events coincides with the organization’s Lost Fishing Gear Recovery Project, which runs Jan. 15 through Feb. 7.
“We are working to remove any marine debris or litter that we find out here at the preserve,” said Rachel Bisesi, coastal education coordinator with the North Carolina Coastal Federation. “There’s a lot of things that washed up from Hurricane Florence.”
More than 70 people from the community, volunteer organizations, North Carolina State University and East Carolina University attended the cleanup event Saturday at Hoop Pole Creek Nature Preserve in Atlantic Beach. The 31-acre site is surrounded by roads, residential areas and businesses and is one of the only remaining natural areas in Bogue Banks.
“There’s a lot of beautiful live oak trees on the trail, maritime forest type plants… and then we have a variety of birds that use the salt marsh habitat…We have some oyster reefs out here so there’s a lot of live oyster shells that are helping to clean and filter the water,” said Bisesi.
Immediately after Hurricane Florence, volunteers helped remove downed trees and limbs so the trail could reopen. Saturday’s cleanup event was the first time since the storm that trash was collected from the marsh areas and trails.
“I want to keep the area clean for the park itself and also for the waterbody and the oysters growing in it,” said Ryan Davenport, a resident of Morehead City. “Nobody wants to look at trash when they’re in a natural setting. Plus, this plastic is the gift that keeps on giving. Once it’s out in the environment, it just keeps going, and going, and going and really never decomposes and kills all kinds of marine life.”
Davenport owns an oyster lease in Hoop Pole Creek. He estimated he lost about 40,000 oysters because of Hurricane Florence. He planted a new batch last fall and hopes to harvest them this summer.
During Saturday’s clean up event at Hoop Pole Creek, volunteers collected approximately 2250 pounds of trash, a 30 percent increase over last year’s total. Some of the commonly found items included cigarette butts, wood debris and a surprising number of tennis balls.
The North Carolina Coastal Federation held shoreline cleanups at Morris Landing in Onslow County and in Rodanthe in Dare County. After having the debris removed from the Rodanthe cleanup event officially weighed, Dare County reported 5 tons of trash was collected. Some of the more unusual items found include a toilet, car parts, beach chairs, coolers and an entire refrigerator with unopened beverages inside.
The Federation is now turning their attention toward a project that focuses on removing derelict vessels from local waterways and disposing of large pieces of wood debris that washed up on land during Hurricane Florence.
“Unfortunately, we had a lot of docks that didn’t do so well during the storm so all of that pressure treated wood, there’s a lot of that in our waterways, said Lexia Weaver, coastal scientist with the North Carolina Coastal Federation. “We were fortunate to receive some funding from the state to help clean that up. So we’ll be working with some fishermen and some volunteers to help pick that up so it doesn’t get washed away in the next storm.”
The North Carolina Coastal Federation is planning another volunteer cleanup day at the Hoop Pole Creek Nature Preserve in the spring to collect the remaining marine debris near the end of the trail.
UPDATE: A previous version of this story reported that 2.5 tons of debris were removed during the cleanup. The correct amount is roughly 6.5 tons. This article has been updated to reflect this correction.