It’s not hard to recognize one of Andrea Kelly’s biggest passions.
Maybe it’s the coastal hues painted on the walls of her home or the ocean-inspired accessories that dot tables and bookshelves. Perhaps it’s the kayaks-in-waiting at the edge of the creek behind her home or the lack of plastic containers in her refrigerator. Or maybe it’s that she still gets sad thinking about the 1970s era television commercial featuring a Native American shedding a tear as he gazes at the ravages of a polluted world.
If you know Kelly, you know she is a lover — and protector— of nature. That’s why it’s so hard for her to see others quite literally trash it.
“It makes me feel physically sick, because there is no good reason for it,” said Kelly, a Daniel Island resident who earned a Bachelor of Science degree in marine science from the University of South Carolina and a doctorate in pharmacology from the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago. “There are trash cans everywhere! It doesn’t take much effort at all to stick it in your pocket, to stick it in your backpack ... It makes me sad about the downstream effect of what one careless act can mean to a sea bird, a sea turtle, a fish, any of that. It’s very selfish.”
And that is why eight years ago, Kelly decided to take the lead in organizing an annual Daniel Island River/Beach Sweep, in conjunction with an international clean-up effort that takes place the same day. Kelly serves as team captain for the local event and the Daniel Island Property Owners Association (POA) provides funding for pizza, water and supplies for the volunteers.
“For a few hours on the third Saturday in September each year, Daniel Island resident and River/Beach Sweep Site Captain Andrea Kelly and Daniel Island volunteers come together to volunteer their time, energy, and commitment to help make a difference,” noted Barbara McLaughlin, manager of community services for the Daniel Island POA. “... We realize the tangible impact that it has on the environment and we view this as one of the most important community initiative efforts done each year by our residents. Their efforts improve the health and appearance of the beautiful natural resources and wildlife that inhabit these areas along our Daniel Island trails and riverfront. The river sweep has grown over the past few years and is a great example of everyone working together for a common environmental cause.”
In South Carolina, the event is the largest one-day litter cleanup of beaches, marshes and waterways. In 2019, close to 3,000 volunteers collected over 31,000 pounds of trash statewide. For Kelly, who makes caring for the environment a family affair all year long, participating is a no-brainer.
“I love the environment, but especially the water and all the creatures dependent on the fragile ecosystem. This was instilled in me at a young age. My father was a consummate outdoorsman and while he hunted and fished ... he was also a great steward of the environment and worked with groups to help protect it and the fauna dependent upon it. The logic was simple — you will not and should not reap the earth’s bounty if you don’t preserve and protect it.”
The Daniel Island River/Beach Sweep didn’t happen in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is returning this year on Saturday, Sept. 18. Volunteers of all ages are invited to gather at The Waterfront Park on Daniel Island at noon, during low tide, and will disperse and head for the shoreline to pick up trash until about 1 p.m.
Those taking part are asked to bring water, bug spray, sunscreen, and a trash picker and gloves (if you have them). A hat, closed-toe shoes, long-sleeved shirts, and long pants are also recommended.
The 2019 event had the highest volunteer turnout yet and brought in a record amount of trash. According to Kelly, and other environmentalists, the work that takes place is becoming increasingly important.
“By 2050, the ocean is projected to contain more plastic than fish,” stated Kelly, citing information provided by the South Carolina Aquarium. “Sea turtles, sea birds, marine mammals and fish can mistake it for food or become entangled in it by accident.”
Removing trash from natural habitats is more than just the right thing to do, she said.
“I believe it is our duty to serve because those dependent on this remarkable ecosystem don’t pollute it,” said Kelly, who is also a devoted member of the Island Turtle Team. “We do. We owe it to them to be good stewards of their home and of our earth.”
Aimee Bischoff, middle school science teacher at Christ Our King - Stella Maris School, couldn’t agree more. Bischoff has worked with Kelly in organizing other area beach sweep events, as well as turtle patrol field trips for her students.
“Andrea Kelly is such a wonderful person!” Bischoff exclaimed. “Her passion for ocean life is amazing! ... She taught the students about turtles and the impact litter has on all ocean life. The students divided in groups and walked the beach, picking up a lot of trash (cigarette butts, chairs, bottles, clothing, etc.). They were amazed at how much trash they collected in a small area. It was a wake-up call for them. Now, they tell me they are always picking up a piece of trash here and there whenever they are visiting the beach. Parents have told me it has made a huge impact on the family, too. I’d say it was a win-win for the community!”
Former Bishop England student Olivia Dussault also worked with Kelly on a beach sweep on Isle of Palms for the school’s Key Club.
“I was looking for something for the club to participate in that would be meaningful and personal to a lot of people,” said Dussault, who is now a sophomore at Babson College. “The beach sweep was perfect for this because we were really doing something to help the environment and save the beach that we all go to and love.”
Kelly is hopeful the Daniel Island community will find the same benefits to cleaning up their own neck of the woods. The most common items typically collected along the island’s shoreline include beverage cans, bottles, food wrappers and foam pieces. A lot of the trash blows in from boats, she said, but there is also construction debris. Kelly, who once found a full roll of discarded carpet and a carpet pad, is on the lookout every time she is outside — especially when kayaking with her family.
“It’s funny because my family wanted to stop going with me, because if I see it, it’s hard for me to leave it ... so our compromise has been on the way out we go and just enjoy ourselves and on the way back, I’m allowed to stop and pick it up! And I keep a trash picker in the kayak with me and have a little bag.”
Volunteers taking part in the Sept. 18 river and beach sweep do not need to pre-register. Upon arrival, each will get a trash bag and a tally sheet to mark down what they collect. In the end, Kelly promised their efforts would net big results when all the bags are counted and they see the impact of their efforts.
“It’s twofold ... it’s that same sick feeling that there was that much trash in our environment, but it’s also an incredible feeling that that didn’t end up where it’s not supposed to be,” said Kelly. “And that’s a wonderful feeling!”
ALL HANDS ON DECK
What: Daniel Island River/Beach Sweep
Where: Daniel Island Waterfront Park,
River Landing Drive
When: Saturday, Sept. 18, 12-1 p.m.
What else: All are welcome. Bring water, bug spray, sunscreen, a trash picker and gloves (if possible). A hat, closed-toe shoes, long-sleeved shirts and long pants are also recommended. Pizza, drinks and other supplies will be provided.
The 2018 Daniel Island River/Beach Sweep netted:
FOOD WRAPPERS: 35
PLASTIC BOTTLES: 43
GLASS BOTTLES: 38
BEVERAGE CANS: 84
PLASTIC BAGS: 72
TENNIS BALLS: 30
SOFA CUSHION: 1