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Keeping our beaches clean

Story by Becca Edwards

Hilton Head’s 12 miles of beaches are known for being pristine, even earning national and international awards such as ranking number 13 on Conde Nast Traveler’s “The 25 Best Island Beaches in the World: 2020 Readers’ Choice Awards” list. And yet, when my oldest daughter needed a community service project for her school and opted for a beach cleanup, we were amazed at what we saw, especially at Coligny Beach. Here, in order from most to least, are the five most common trash items we found:

• Cigarettes

•Plastic straw wrappers from drink pouches

Water bottle caps

• Styrofoam beads

• Clothing tags

In addition, we found fishing lines and hooks, diapers, discarded children’s beach toys, water bottles, beer cans and even the fake grass garnish in to-go sushi.

We also found a lot of friendly people walking their dogs, fishing for red fish, visiting our Island or just living their best local life. The point is, we have something great here in the Lowcountry, but need to be aware of some important facts so we do not lose what we have. This is where Mike Overton, owner of Outside Hilton Head, comes in.

Overton moved to Hilton Head Island in 1979, and what began as a windsurfing school 42 years ago has become an environmentally and recreationally conscious and impactful company of five divisions (specialty outdoor retail, leisure recreation and experience, team leadership, destination management and The Outside Foundation, a nonprofit organization), with roughly 130 employees and four retail stores (one in Shelter Cove and Savannah and two in Palmetto Bluff). He credits the success of his business and his passion for preserving and protecting our natural waterways and landforms to something Charles Fraser told him. “He said everything here revolves around the tide,” explained Overton. “If you want to connect with people culturally, environmentally, recreationally, et cetera, it’s all about the tides.” Overton then pointed out, “and it is also because of the tides that a lot of people do not see the waste left on our beaches.”

Compared to other beaches around the world, Overton admits we are relatively clean, “but we are far from perfect, and that comes from human behavior.”

Overton’s tips for cleaner beaches

1. Use recyclable containers, such as a water bottle versus a plastic one.

2. Pack light when going to the beach. Do you really need all that gear? Remove food and drinks from all the packaging and consolidate them in your cooler or reusable bags.

3. Walk along the beach, especially with your children. “It’s surprising how many of the kids who go through our Outside Foundation program who have lived here all their lives have never been on the water or to the beach. By exposing kids to the outdoors, you raise awareness and education.”

4. Leave no trace and this includes leveling sandcastles and filling in holes you dug.

5. Take it one step further and leave with more than what you came with by picking up and disposing of any trash you see on the beach.

6. Encourage local elected officials to incentivize South Carolinians to recycle. “Unfortunately, in our world it seems the solution to cleaner beaches becomes monetary. South Carolina doesn’t have a bottle bill. If we had a five-cent redemption on bottles, you would see people walking up and down picking up bottles.”

7. Volunteer or donate to The Outside Foundation (for more information, visit

8. Get outside. “I don’t know of a better way to enrich one’s life than
getting outside.”

Adopt a beach

The Lowcountry is home to some of the cleanest beaches on the East Coast. Find your favorite beach and help keep it that way.

Hilton Head Island

Adler Lane (just off of South Forest Beach Drive)
Burkes Beach (near Chaplin Community Park)
Coligny Beach Park
Driessen Beach Park
Fish Haul Beach Park
Folly Field Beach Park
Islanders Beach Park
Mitchelville Beach Park


Alljoy Beach
May River Sandbar

Daufuskie Island

Bloody Point Beach

Beaufort area

Hunting Island State Park
Land’s End Beach
The Sands