Lumina News file photo
Al Meadowcroft with the Surfrider Foundation Cape Fear Chapter hands out reusable burlap sacks to volunteers during the Keep America Beautiful Big Sweep on Sept. 24, 2011.
On Saturday, Sept. 21, hundreds will scour the local beaches and waterways picking up, documenting and disposing trash found on the shores and in nearby parking lots.
Beginning as a statewide beach cleanup in 1987, the North Carolina Big Sweep is now held annually.
Locally, New Hanover County Parks and Gardens, Keep New Hanover County Beautiful and several other local organizations coordinate the sweep.
Jennifer O’Keefe, New Hanover County Environmental Educator, said although the event is technically a waterway cleanup, it is easy for trash in a parking lot or on the side of the road to end up in the water.
The most common items found locally and throughout the United States are cigarette butts, bottle caps, straws and straw wrappers.
“I’m always surprised at the number of bowling balls,” O’Keefe said.
In 2012, 632 volunteers cleaned more than 5,500 pounds of trash from more than 40 miles of waterways, 3.5 miles of roads and 61 acres of parks and other areas.
“The main purpose is to collect the trash,” O’Keefe said. “It’s bad for aesthetics; it’s bad for wildlife and for people. It’s a public health hazard as well as being a danger to wildlife as far as entanglement or ingestion. Throughout the state … animals … are entangled every year.”
A black skimmer was found entangled in fishing line last year, and in 2011 a possum was found entangled in Kure Beach.
“One thing about Big Sweep is that it has such a big educational aspect,” O’Keefe said. “I think that so many people learn a lot when they are at the cleanup, maybe it’s an area they haven’t been to before or maybe they didn’t realize how much was there before.”
While the sweep is a lot of work, O’Keefe said it is also a lot of fun.
Generally between 600 and 700 volunteers sign up for the sweep. They are then assigned to an area within the county. The sweep will cover Masonboro Island, Wrightsville Beach, Carolina Beach, Kure Beach and the Cape Fear River.
Most of the sweep will take place in the morning hours around 9 a.m., but two sites will be cleaned in the afternoon when tides are low along the Cape Fear River and Snows Cut Park.
Volunteers tally what they pick up during the sweep on data cards, which is later calculated and released to the public.
The Wrightsville Beach portion of the Big Sweep will meet at Johnnie Mercer’s Pier at 8:30 a.m. before dispersing.
Registration for Big Sweep closes on Friday, Sept. 20, at 8 p.m. For more information or to register, visit www.keepnhcbeautiful.org