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  • Plastic Pollution on Vacation: Cleaning Up Shackleford plastic-pollution-shackleford-NC Full view

    Plastic Pollution on Vacation: Cleaning Up Shackleford

    Heading to the beach soon? My recent trip to North Carolina started as sight-seeing but turned up into a mini-beach cleanup.

    Here’s how things went down (and some beautiful pictures of trash to help motivate!)

    Impromptu beach cleanup – How We Went from Looking for Horses to Plastic

    Trying to find an adventure in the Outer Banks, we found ourselves in Beauford, NC. After having a quaint lunch at the Boardwalk Café, we were walking by a boat going out to Shackleford Island as it was starting to pull out. Luckily the woman was able to call them back in so we could hop on board for a 3 hour tour (a 3 hour tour…)

    Luckily for us, it ended up better than Ginger & Gilligan. The small boat tour advertised and encouraged you to find wild horses and pick up seashells.

    Unlike most of the families and small children, we started looking for the wild horses. But with my mindset, I couldn’t help but noticing all the trash left behind by tourists, boats, and litter that must have been carried onshore by the ocean.

    plastic pollution shackleford NC

    Luckily I had my reusable bag and we found an additional few plastic bags to start collecting our finds in. Unfortunately, we couldn’t pick up everything, like this lone tire on the sand:

    Beach tire trash in shackleford NC

    (That small tire was heavy so I couldn’t carry it around for another hour. Instead, I moved that tire to a higher ground hoping that another cleanup would be able to take it with them, rather than decomposing the ocean.)

    Cleaning Up Plastic Pollution from Shackleford Banks, NC

    Once we started looking for trash, we couldn’t stop finding it everywhere we turned. Between boaters, campers and tourists, there was a sea of plastic, cigarette butts and more. The search for wild horses was coming up empty as we instead started keeping our eyes peeled to the ground.

    An hour after walking out into the woods, we turned back to shore and continued our journey. We stumbled across a few park rangers, and I inquired if they had a cleanup policy/day. The park ranger mentioned that due to the budget cuts & recent sequester, their only policy was the philosophy “leave it how you found it.”

    As you can see, there was all types of trash both from island visitors and that must have washed on the island from the main shore. Tires, dish detergent, spoons and more scattered the island where wild horses roam:

    The park ranger told me that they don’t have any official cleanup days. But considering  this was the amount of trash we found on the island, I think they might want to make a more conscious effort:

    plastic pollution on shackleford beach, NC

    As we were waiting for the boat to retrieve the plastic and us, we saw wild horses in the distance. Right where we had been looking for them.

    As we traveled back to shore, the captain stated that 1-2 couples per day typically come back with bags full of trash collected from the island. Although it was positive to hear that people are catching on to the importance of our plastic footprints, it was surprising to me the cumulative amount of trash brought back to shore each day… especially since some trash faded and breaking down in the sun’s rays.

    Once we got back to the mainland, we found a recycle bin and dumped the plastic pollution booty. Here’s a sampling of our treasure:

    plastic pollution found in shackleford banks, NC

    So how can you help when you’re on vacation?

    • Next time you’re traveling, try taking a tour, bike ride or hike. Bring a few spare plastic or canvas bags to fill with your findings.
    • Make sure to find a recycle bin and trashcan upon your return and properly sort your findings as need be.
    • If you have children, get them involved by helping. Explain how you’re helping make an impact. Make sure they know not to pick up anything sharp.
    • Organize a ‘clean up’ scavenger hunt contest. Try challenging your family and friends for a prize (like a healthy treat or bike ride rental) for who collects the most garbage.

    Readers, have you tried picking up the trash on one of your vacations? What’s the most surprising thing that you found?

    Julie Hancher

    About Julie Hancher

    Julie Hancher is Editor-in-Chief of Green Philly, sharing her expertise of all things sustainable in the city of brotherly love. She enjoys long walks in the park with eco-friendly wine and greening her travels, cooking & cat, Pounce DeLeon.

    Your thoughts . . .

    • Julie Jones

      My son’s Cub Scout group has also been camping at Shackleford and picked up trash. Watch out for the copper heads in the undergrowth! It’s a shame people don’t respect the beauty god gave us. Need more people like yourself !!! Thanks a million from a NCarolina!!!!

    • Wow Julie – Good thing I didn’t know about the copperheads first or I probably would have hid. 😉

      Thanks for helping clean up Shackleford too! So great to hear about your son’s group!

      Best, Julie