Just before Hurricane Florence struck the North Carolina coast on Sept. 13, John Williamson got up and grabbed a cup of coffee, as he normally does, before heading to the beach — not to go for a swim or lay under the sun, but to pick up the trash.
He walked over to the dunes on Conquest Beach, a few miles north of the Indian River Inlet, at about 8:30 in the morning and peered down.
“The beach was black,” he said. “It was like a river of black.”
The Selbyville resident couldn’t tell if there were seashells because of all the dead horseshoe crabs and debris, which had washed ashore most likely from the strong winds, tidal flooding and rain that hit the area last week.
“The trash was phenomenal,” Williamson said. “It made me want to cry.”
He walked north on the beach and decided to pick up the marine debris on the way back.
That’s when he found four syringes. Two of them were tiny, like those administered for the flu vaccine. The others were bigger, about an inch and a half long.
Williamson moved to the area two years ago, around the same time he started collecting trash along the coast. In the offseason, he usually goes out three times a week.
“This is the first time I found syringes,” he said.
During his walk, Williamson started seeing colors in the dark mass that assaulted the beach: orange buoys, toys, a kid’s life jacket — “Everything under the sun,” he said, and his hands and arms were soon at capacity, despite the daunting amount of trash that still covered the beach.
His findings came prior to the 31st Annual Delaware Coastal Cleanup, a statewide initiative scheduled for Sept. 22 that will target over 45 river and ocean shorelines as well as wetland and watershed areas.
Last year, over 1,500 volunteers collected 3.8 tons of trash from 47 sites from Wilmington to Fenwick Island, according to the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, which sponsors the event.
“In flooding situations, syringes, which may be medical waste or possible drug paraphernalia, can wash in along with other types of debris,” said Jamie Bethard, chief of DNREC’s Emergency Response and Prevention Section, in a statement.
Syringes found on the shore could be from medical debris, drug use or flushing down needles from at-home insulin injections.
Medical waste should not be picked up by bare hands and should instead be repositioned using a rake, shovel or trash-picker devices, Bethard said. Needles shouldn’t be directly disposed of, and should instead be put in sharps containers.
Findings can be reported by calling DNREC’s 24-hour Environmental Emergency Response line, which is 800-662-8802.
Marine debris is common after natural disasters like nor’easters, tropical storms and floods, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Williamson found another piece of trash that doubled as a bucket, and threw his washed-up collection in it while kicking up the bigger debris toward the dunes so they wouldn’t wind up in the ocean.
According to Williamson’s observations, 80 percent of the debris was sucked back up by the tide.
He ventured out to the beach again on Sept. 15, and found two more syringes. That day, he ran into a woman who had found a few more near the Indian River Inlet.
He disposed of the needles but took some of them to the beach patrol to bring awareness to the hazard.
One of his fears was a parent placing their baby in the sand, and a needle — which could be disease-ridden — getting stuck in the infant’s leg.
“You don’t want that stuff out there,” he said, adding, “Don’t just walk barefoot and not pay attention.”
Needles weren’t the only oddity that washed up on Delaware beaches last week.
Dave Beebe, owner of Lighthouse View Bait & Tackle, said he spotted between 12 and 15 hognose snakes at the fishing pier at Cape Henlopen State Park in a single day.
“It was right after the big storm,” Beebe said. “They looked like they were coming from the inner wall of the rock jetties.”
Hognose snakes, Beebe said, are “harmless” and what he saw on the pier seemed more like a one-day event than a usual occurrence.
The snakes swam off into the weeds, “and then they were gone,” Beebe said, adding that in his 50 years of fishing at Cape Henlopen pier, he’s never seen a reptilian event like this one.
Photo Credit:Mtbr Forum