Charleston has, once again, been voted the top city in the United States and number two city in the world according to readers of Travel and Leisure magazine. It could be that so many Charleston rental homes are decorated with that publication. More likely, though, it has to do with the idea that Charleston is a beautiful, historic, and cultural town.

For me, one of the largest attractions is the natural beauty of the area. Sunrises over the Atlantic, the peace of the marshlands, and the grace of a Snowy Egret patiently waiting to pick off a fish are just a few examples of the beauty of the Lowcountry. But clouds reflected in the water can be deceiving. While people continue to flock to the Holy City as it receives national accolades, the area’s waterways are regularly failing clean water tests.

Charleston Waterkeeper, a nonprofit created to protect, promote, and restore the quality of Charleston’s waterways, keeps a very close eye on local waterways by testing for enterococcus bacteria levels and provides a weekly update from May through October. This bacteria is generally a measure of human and animal fecal matter in the water. There are 14 non-beach test sites in the Charleston area. Results from the latest testing date of July 21 showed that 50 percent of those sites failed to meet standards.

A large issue is the rapid expansion of the area and an infrastructure that can’t adequately handle it at this point in time. There are many variables here that will require a communal effort, research, and wise leadership on the government level that puts a higher value on the natural environment than the current federal government. However, at the core, it requires a population with an awareness of the importance of environmental protection and a desire to do something about it. Which is why it is so disheartening to see how many of us trash the areas which we should consider a blessing.

I know I’m not alone in my appreciation for the natural environment. However, as often as I explore the Lowcountry, I come across the unfortunate evidence of human interaction. Boat landings can be treasure troves for empty beer cans, diapers, and food wrappers. It’s rare that I paddle on the water without coming back with plastic bottles I found in the marsh grass. Hammock islands that welcome visitors with a convenient beach are repaid with enormous amounts of litter left over from boaters enjoying the “salt life.”

What I don’t understand is the mentality of those members of the boating community who obviously enjoy being out on the water; using the boat landings and visiting the hammock islands while simultaneously trashing them. I have to assume that the average boater, if given the choice of spending their Saturday on a river filled with trash or a clean, beautiful waterway would choose the latter. So why turn those glistening rivers into giant garbage dumps? It’s just as foolish as asking someone with the flu to cough on your burger before you eat it. There are better ways of getting a day off from work.

Charleston County Park and Recreation Commission (CCPRC) manages and maintains 19 public boat landings in the area. It’s a great service to the community and provides a way for allowing the public and visitors to enjoy the tidal rivers that make the area so lovely. Visiting one will reveal their approach to keeping the boat landings and waterways clean. A sign posted that says “Pack it in, Pack it out”, puts the responsibility on boaters. In a place where there is no test or requirement to actually operate a boat, unless you are 15 years old or younger, this simple Leave No Trace mantra is a lot to ask. When you don’t have to understand tide changes or channel markers to operate a boat in Charleston, why expect the average boater to understand the importance of environmental protection?

CCPRC could take on more responsibility for the trash at the landings and in the water. Something as simple as a trash can with regular pickup would be really helpful. However, it would be just as easy for CCPRC to say they don’t want the responsibility and leave the boat landings to another entity or close them.

The onus is on those who use the boat landings to be responsible for keeping them clean. It’s time to stop expecting others to do the work we need to be doing. Boaters need to keep other boaters accountable and care as much about litter in their playground as they do their toys.

I saw something a couple of weeks ago that made me smile, though. I was preparing to get on the water with some paddleboards and noticed another individual who looked like he was getting ready to do some fishing. But he wasn’t. Instead, he was walking around with a trash bag and filling it with all the refuse that others had left on the ground at the Limehouse Boat Landing.

Thank you, sir, for setting a fantastic example and picking up the slack. Thank you to all those users of our waterways who are responsible for their own trash and even clean up after others. The earth thanks you as well. Future generations thank you for teaching and spreading a selfless philosophy that suggests an understanding for our humble place in this world. That is something worth leaving behind for others.

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