Christmas on the Marshwalk

The holidays are in the air at the Murrells Inlet Marshwalk near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

The Marshland Wonderland of Lights is full of festive sights and sounds of the season.

The event runs nightly through January 8, 2018.

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Healthy Oceans in Myrtle Beach Means protecting sharks

Say the word “Shark” while at the beach and you will have a frenzy of people trying to get out of the water.

But the next time you visit a beach try to open your eyes to a different view of sharks.

When it comes to these ocean predators, it is vital to protect them. Think of them as the janitors to our oceans. They keep them healthy and clean.

But humans are not making their jobs any easier. Sharks face many dangers. The most significant threat is ocean pollution, recently reviewed extensively on this site in a previous article here.

The second danger is human interaction. When sharks are eliminated, the marine ecosystem loses its balance.

Sharks play a significant role in the oceans. Sharks are at the top of the food chain in virtually every part of every ocean. In that position, they keep populations of other fish healthy and in proper proportion for their ecosystem.

That is why many shark experts say we should respect them.

For more information on protecting sharks just visit the Coastal Carolina Shark Research Team Facebook page.

How Ocean Pollution is Injuring South Carolina’s Marine Animals

Our world is a trashy society, and that is causing big problems to oceans and the marine life that call it home.

“I hope we would be more enlightened about throwing trash in the oceans,” said Dr. Dan Abel, a marine biologist at Coastal Carolina University. “This was something that was done in the 40s, 50s, and 60s; then the environmental movement was supposed to educate people.”

According to the Ocean Conservancy, more marine debris was found in the United States than any of the other 65 countries in 2007.

Roland Geyer tallied how much plastic people have manufactured since its invention and he came up with more than eight-point-three billion metric tons. Geyer says that can cover the size of Argentina, which is the eighth-largest country in the world.

That translates to an estimated 14 billion pounds of trash -most of it plastic -is dumped in the world’s oceans every year.

Abel says that plastic trash is causing big problems for the sharks and sea turtles that swim off the coast of Myrtle Beach.

Plastics don’t usually break down entirely, but they break down into small components which organisms ingest. There are chemicals in there, and plastics themselves can block digestive tracts,” said Abel.

According to a study published in Marine Pollution Bulletin about the impacts of plastics entering whales’ diets, found that since plastics cannot be digested, it sits in the stomach without being able to go anywhere.

This can affect more than 600 species of marine animals.

Caroline Collatos, a graduate student at Coastal Carolina University, says she has seen first-hand the damage plastics can cause.

“Both of my field seasons so far I have seen direct evidence of plastic physically harming and cutting into sharks,” said Collatos.

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Juvenile Sandbar Shark with plastic embedded in its neck.
Photo Courtesy: Dr. George Boneillo, Marine Biologist at Coastal Carolina University

Last year Collatos and her team caught two sharks that were suffering from plastic wounds. One shark, a female black tip, had the plastic cord wrapped around her neck. Collatos says it cut her so deep the muscle was showing.

Collatos believes this shark was already halfway through her healing period when she was caught.

“Sharks can be very resilient when it comes to wounds, and they have a very fast and effective healing process,” said Collatos. “This shark was halfway through her original healing period, so her original wounds must have been much worse than what we saw.”

A few weeks later a female Juvenile Sandbar shark was caught. That shark was also suffering from plastic injuries. This time it was plastic cord used to wrap around a box that cut into this shark’s fifth gill.

Both plastics were removed from each shark; they were tagged and released.

Abel says the sharks are incredibly lucky they were caught.

“We were able to save both sharks, but they would have certainly died within weeks if we had not caught it on a long line and removed the strap,” said Abel.

According to the State of the Oceans Summit, it is estimated that 90 percent of the world shark population has disappeared in the last 50 years. The reason is that of the trash accumulation in the waters.

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   Female Juvenile Sandbar Shark, tagged and released in Winyah Bay.                                  Photo: Sharon Tutrone

Abel, who has more than 30 years of experience researching sharks, has been shark tagging in Winyah Bay for more than 15 years. He started the program to give his undergraduate and graduate students a chance to study Juvenile Sandbar sharks.

Abel says shark tagging allows researchers the opportunity to study the movements of these ocean predators and why they like to frequent certain waters over others. The sharks can have a tag placed near the shark’s dorsal fin, or they can have an acoustic telemeter inserted into the abdomen of the shark.

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To see the possible shark path of one of the sharks tagged in Winyah Bay, click on the picture above

Winyah Bay is a prime location to go shark tagging because it has a huge watershed. It drains 18-thousand square miles, with four different rivers dumping into the Bay. It is also the primary pathway to the Atlantic Ocean.

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Four rivers that flow into Winyah Bay.
Infographic made using Animaps.

Many fishing vessels, sharks, and sea turtles all share this open water. The increase in congestion means more pollution, and sharks are not the only animals at risk.

How Ocean Pollution is Injuring South Carolina's Marine Animals

Sea turtles also suffer dangerous consequences from ocean debris.

“Sea turtles have a really small brain, and they eat a lot of things that look like trash. They will eat a lot of jellies and fish and so they will mistake trash for their prey,” said Ann Wilson, park ranger. “Their brains are so little they won’t learn from their mistakes.”

Wilson works at Myrtle Beach State Park and says a lot of the trash that ends up in the ocean begins at the beach.

“It is because of our picnics, or what we take to a fishing pier. Even out on the roadway with wind and then it blows out towards the ocean,” said Wilson.

But Wilson feels fishermen pose the biggest threat to our sea turtles.

“To me, fishing line is a really slow death. As an animal keeps growing it’s going to keep strangling and strangling. It’s not going to be a quick easy death,” said Wilson.

When a sea turtle gets caught in fishing line, that is where the biologists at the South Carolina Aquarium come into play. They nurse these injured animals back to health.

“We see plastic ingestion, many of our turtles will eat the plastic out in the wild or pass it in their tank or pass it while they are here in rehab,” said Katelyn McGlothlin, a sea turtle biologist at the South Carolina Aquarium. “We had two patients we had to do surgery on to remove that plastic, which was fishing line that the animal had ingested. It was wrapped around her neck and front left flipper.”

McGlothin says that many of their patients who have ingested plastic will pass it on their own, and will spend seven to nine months in their aquarium recovering.

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A baby blacktip shark caught on a long line. It was tagged and released in Winyah Bay.
Photo: Sharon Tutrone

While some work daily to save the lives of these marine animals, there are others who are not aware of the dangers plastics pose to sharks or turtles.

“It’s very disturbing I honestly did not realize that was happening and that was going on with the animals,” said Loes Muller, beachgoer.

Muller says she is better educated now since seeing pictures of sharks with plastic wrapped around their necks. She says she will help educate others enjoying the beach to make sure everyone does their part to save marine life.

“I feel a lot of people don’t realize what they are doing and how it is affecting the animals out in the ocean,” said Muller.

According to the Marine Conservation, we should treat our oceans as our life support. To survive, we all need healthy oceans.

Therefore, those who live near beaches or visit them can make a difference when it comes to taking out the trash.

“Don’t use a straw at a local restaurant and keep reusable bags in your car,” said Collatos.

For more tips on how you can reduce ocean pollution, visit Greenpeace.org.

Handled with care: Myrtle Beach Blue Star Mothers pack “hero” boxes for troops overseas

In a few weeks, several service members will get a welcome surprise at mail call courtesy of the Blue Star Mothers of Coastal Carolina.

“We want to make sure that they know we are thinking about them,” said Carol Dion, vice president of Blue Star Mothers of Coastal Carolina.

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Packed boxed are taped up and ready to be shipped.                                                Photo: Sharon Tutrone

More than 30 volunteers spent a Saturday morning packing over 100 boxes. The boxes will head to our servicemen and women who are away from home. Each box contains comforts of home like toiletries, cookies, magazines, and soup. Although the boxes will not bring families closer together, they will offer some familiar comforts.

“Our ultimate goal is to send them a little piece of home. They will open a box and see a package of Oreos. If you are in a God forsaken place you are not going to get Oreos,” said Dion.

Blue Star Mothers of Coastal Carolina is a non-profit organization made up of parents who have children serving our country in the Armed Forces. The group frequently gets together to pack boxes to send to our troops. The boxes are sent to deployed troops but mailing the boxes are not cheap. To ship one box cost $17.95 and the post office does not offer a discount. So the Blue Star Mother of Coastal Carolina depends upon the generosity of the community to help them fulfill their mission.

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Volunteers pack summer “hero” boxes Photo: Sharon Tutrone

“We have two more packings that we want to do. We do a Halloween and a Christmas packing,” said Dion. “At this point, we may be a little bit short at the end of the year for our Christmas packing.”

Dion says every penny collected goes towards the troops.

Wayne Talaber with the VFW Riders Murrells Inlet not only stopped by to help pack boxes but made a donation on his group’s behalf.

“Our Veterans and our active military are the biggest things for us. We support them 100 percent, and we are going to do everything we can to make sure that these keep going,” said Talaber.

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A member of the VFW Riders Murrells  Inlet donates to the Blue Star  Mother of Coastal Carolina.                                     Photo: Sharon Tutrone

For others, this event was a chance for parents to teach their child a lesson about helping others.

“They are fighting for our country, and they are overseas and can’t get stuff like this,” said Lilly Lawson, Volunteer. “It makes me feel really good that we are helping someone else.”

If you would like to help The Blue Star Mothers of Coastal Carolina cover shipping costs, you can head to their website http://www.bluestarmothersofcoastalcarolina.com/ to find out how to donate.

 

What lies beneath is always a surprise to one Marine Biologist

Fishing can be considered a game of cat and mouse. You feel the rush when there is that tug on your line and cannot wait to see what is on the other end.

Now, imagine that feeling if you are a marine biologist on a shark tagging trip.

“The first ones are always one of the most special ones,” said Dr. Dan Abel, a marine biologist at Coastal Carolina University. “We never know what we are going to pull up when we set a long line. Or what we will see when we are on the way to set a long line.”

Abel,  who has more than 30 years of experience researching sharks, has been shark tagging in Winyah Bay for more than 15 years. He started the program to give his undergraduate and graduate students a chance to study Juvenile Sandbar sharks.

Abel says shark tagging allows researchers the chance to study the movements of these ocean predators and why they like to frequent certain waters over others. The sharks can have a tag placed near the shark’s dorsal fin, or they can have an acoustic telemeter inserted into the abdomen of the shark.

Acoustic telemeters are little pingers that ping every 60 to 90 seconds. For researchers to get information on where the shark is, it has to go by an acoustic receiver.

Abel says Winyah Bay is so diverse and offers many surprises every time they head out to fish.

“What’s always surprising to me is the diversity and abundance of sharks and the size range in such a small ecosystem,” said Abel. “Winyah Bay has a very large watershed. It drains 18-thousand square miles, but the bay itself is not that large for it to have that many sharks and rays inhabiting it.”

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Infographic made by Sharon Tutrone using Animaps.com

Think of Winyah Bay as a hunting ground, where it comes down to the survival of the fittest.

“We have learned there is a mix of sharks within the bay, and they tend to divide themselves so the small ones can find safety and the big ones can find plenty of prey and room to swim around,” said Abel.

So, what is the draw for the sharks?

“We have learned that most of the sharks like high salinity waters, so it’s an estuary,” said Abel.

 

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Students measure the salinity of the water in Winyah Bay.                                           Photo: Sharon Tutrone

Salinity is the amount of dissolved salts that are present in water. It is that salinity that Abel says plays a role in why sharks visit Winyah Bay.

“The sharks will divide themselves based on salinities. Most of the big sharks, the oceanic or the near coastal sharks like high salinities,” said Abel. “Some of the smaller life stages we see will move up the river, and that will protect them from the bigger sharks.”

Salinity levels in Winyah Bay fluctuate because it has four rivers dumping into it.

“When there is a lot of rain in the water shed, the fresh water coming out can be quite significant which can lower the salinities, and not many sharks can live in low salinities,” said Abel.

To follow Abel and his students on their shark tagging trips to Winyah Bay click on the Coastal Carolina Shark Research team page on Facebook.

 

 

Should we be afraid of sharks? No way says Myrtle Beach shark expert

Sharks. For some, the mere word is scary enough to avoid the Atlantic Ocean on a hot summer day.

The fear is real and has a name. The condition is known as galeophobia.

Whether you believe it or not, when you step into the ocean you are literally swimming with the fishes. These ocean predators coexist peacefully with surfers and sun bathers, and chances are you are not even aware of their presence.

In fact, very few are lucky enough to meet one of these majestic marine beasts.

According to Dr. Dan Abel, a marine biologist at Coastal Carolina University, sharks should be embraced.

“People fear sharks when they should respect them. When you go to the beach you should be comforted knowing there are sharks swimming in the surf line,” said Abel. “A healthy ocean needs its sharks so we shouldn’t fear them.”

Abels says humans are the sharks biggest threat. Humans catch them for their fins, that is used in shark fin soup, or they are caught and used as trophies.

Abel knows what he is talking about; he has been studying sharks for more than 30 years. Every year he holds a semester at sea where students get an up close and personal look at these guardians of the ocean.

Abel started a research program more than 15 years ago that takes a group of undergraduate and graduate marine biology students out to Winyah Bay to study Juvenile Sandbar Sharks.

Abel says most of the time sharks have no interest in humans. Yes, sharks are predators, but none of them have humans as a regular prey on their menu. Sharks prefer smaller fish like squid and shrimp. But Abel says, there are some things you can do to prevent a trip to the hospital.

“Don’t swim at dawn or dusk. That is when many sharks feed,” said Abel. “Avoid swimming near piers where people are fishing and if you see a school of fish, get out of the water.”

What about that fin above the water line, does that mean a shark is coming after you?

“No, that does not mean they are coming after you. Most of the time people see a wave or a dolphin,” said Caroline Collatos, a graduate student in the marine science department. “Sharks rarely do this, and when they do, they may be chasing prey that swam up to the surface.”

Again, there is a small chance that a shark will bite you, but if you do go in the ocean here are some more tips to make that risk even lower.

Sink your teeth into some shark tagging facts as Shark Week approaches

It’s that time of year to feed your shark feeding frenzy appetite. Shark week is just around the corner and for some researchers, studying and tracking sharks happens year-round, not just one week out of the year.

Shark tagging allows researchers the chance to study the movements of these ocean predators and why they like to frequent certain waters over others. The sharks can have a tag placed near the shark’s dorsal fin, or they can have an acoustic telemeter inserted into the abdomen of the shark.

Acoustic telemeters are little pingers that ping every 60 to 90 seconds. For researchers to get information on where the shark is, it has to go by an acoustic receiver.

OCEARCH is one of the most well-known shark tagging groups around. They work mostly with Great Whites and Tiger Sharks. Presently, the group is conducting their 29th exhibition off the Jersey Shore.

Chris Fisher is known for his work with OCEARCH. Since 2007 Fisher has tagged many great whites, who have become local favorites, especially here in South Carolina. Fischer sets up a Twitter handle for all his sharks so they can “communicate with people.” You can access all the shark’s Twitter handles through Fischer’s Twitter account.

One of the most popular sharks that people like to track is Mary Lee. She was tagged in September of 2012 off the coast of Cape Cod. To see her tagging video click here.

According to the global shark tracker, Mary Lee has traveled almost 40,000 miles since she was tagged, many of her travels have taken her off the coast of South Carolina. Through her tag, researchers were able to tell if she was pregnant just by her movements and where she would spend time during certain times of the year.

The tagging process must run efficiently. According to OCEARCH, it should only take 15 minutes to get the shark onboard, tagged and back into the water.

This research is not only happening in the deep depths of the Atlantic Ocean. There are also tagging efforts happening right off the coast of South Carolina. Marine Biologists with Coastal Carolina University focus on the smaller resident sharks that call Winyah Bay home.

Dr. Dan Abel, a marine biologist with CCU, started the research program more than 15 years ago. He takes a group of undergraduate and graduate marine biology students out to Winyah Bay to study Juvenile Sandbar Sharks.

Caroline Collatos, a graduate student in the marine biology department at Coastal Carolina University, tells us the process to catch a shark is precise. According to Collatos, students bait 25 hooks on a line that is 150 meters long. The line has floats and anchors at both ends. Once the lines are in the water, they soak for 30-45 minutes. The students then hand pull the line in, hoping they have a shark on one of the hooks.

 

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Photo: CCU Shark Research Team Facebook page

Recently the Coastal Carolina Shark research team caught a small spinner shark that was just weeks or months old. The team was able to conclude this by an umbilical scar still visible on the shark.

This catch helped marine biologists determine that Winyah Bay is, in fact, a secondary nursery, meaning it is a place where baby sharks grow up.

Click on the following links for more information on OCEARCH or the Coastal Carolina Shark Research team.

Sharks of Coastal South Carolina. Why is Winyah Bay such a popular spot for these ocean predators?

Many who live in Myrtle Beach have heard of Winyah Bay. It is where the Waccamaw, Pee Dee, Black and the Sampit River all drain into South Carolina.

But did you know it also makes for a great place to raise kids? Shark “kids” that is.

“Winyah Bay is a primary and secondary nursery. A primary nursery is where an animal will go and give birth, and a secondary nursery will be where that baby then grows up,” said Caroline Collatos, a graduate student in the marine science department at Coastal Carolina University.

Collatos believes that Winyah Bay is a secondary nursery for three different species of sharks.

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Baby Blacktip shark caught in   Winyah Bay. Shark was tagged and released.                                Photo: Sharon Tutrone

“The evidence we collected is showing us that this bay provides an area for these juveniles to grow up and hopefully become sexually reproductive and add to the population,” said Collatos.

Sharks move due to the change of season. Some sharks are more tolerant to colder or warmer temperatures which decide when they leave an area.

“Winyah Bay has both cold water and warm water species. In the winter we have two different species that use the bay. They are spiny dogfish and smooth dogfish sharks,” said Collatos. “In the summer, we have four species that use the bay frequently; the most dominant species is the Juvenile Sandbar shark.”

Collatos says a lot of juvenile sharks that grow up in Winyah Bay eventually move out to coastal areas. But they have also seen older sharks make their way into the bay as well.

“We also have a lot of older adult sharks that come into Winyah Bay to feed on smaller sharks or other prey,” said Collatos.

Sharks are not the only animal that heads to Winyah Bay to mate. Recently the CCU Shark research team caught a female stingray that had two males trying to mate with her as the team brought her in on the fishing line.

So why are the waters of Winyah Bay so attractive to sharks? It is a question Coastal Carolina marine biologists are hoping to answer through their tag and release program.

Dr. Dan Abel, a marine biologist with CCU, started the research program more than 15 years ago. He takes a group of undergraduate and graduate marine biology students out to Winyah Bay to study Juvenile Sandbar Sharks.

“One of our aims is to simply look at the demographics of shark populations,” said Abel. “What factors influence the presence and absence and the diversity of sharks in ecosystems.”

The process of tracking sharks is tedious and precise. Abel and his students bait 25 hooks on a line that is 150 meters long. The line has floats and anchors at both ends. Once the lines are in the water, they soak for 30-45 minutes. The students then hand pull the line in, hoping they have a shark on one of the hooks.

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Long lines are baited with Mackerel. Photo: Sharon Tutrone

 

“Acoustic telemeters are little pingers,” said Abel. “We make a two-inch incision in the abdomen and put a double A battery-sized instrument inside, sew it back up, and it will ping every 60 to 90 seconds. For us to get information on where the shark is, it has to go by an acoustic receiver. Fortunately, there’s a ray of receivers up and down the coast and worldwide.”

Acoustic tagging allows CCU students to track the movements of return visitors to Winyah Bay.

Besides the tagging trips to Winyah Bay, Dr. Abel takes his students every May to the Shark Lab in Bimini, which is located in the Bahamas. Abel says the students get an up close and personal look at the sharks and the stingrays. Abel says everything they learn in Bimini prepares them for their Winyah Bay tagging trips.

To learn more about the Coastal Carolina shark research team’s findings, click here.

 

Myrtle Beach woman beats breast cancer and shares her emotional story to save lives

You have cancer. Three words no one ever wants to hear. But for one Myrtle Beach woman, that was her reality.

Instead of giving up, she fought back and shared her story to not only create awareness but help someone who might be facing the same battle she fought and won.

Patricia’s biggest piece of advice is don’t wait. If something doesn’t feel right, go get it checked right away.

For more information contact the American Cancer Society or Susan G. Komen.

 

The sound of freedom is loud and proud for one Myrtle Beach swim coach


Freedom. What does the word mean to you?

Many will agree that freedom means living in a free country. Some, although will not admit it, take this luxury for granted because they cannot imagine NOT living in a free society. Since, freedom, is all they ever knew.

But for millions, the struggle is real to get a taste of what Americans enjoy every day of our lives. Many have spent sleepless nights dreaming about the day they can call the United States of America home.

“I love America, God Bless America. It upsets me sometimes when people take for granted their freedom,” said Eleonora Rumbaugh, swim coach at Claire Chapin Epps Family YMCA in Myrtle Beach. “They just think they are entitled to everything. At home, we have to work hard to get the small things.”

Rumbaugh was born in Bulgaria. She says she had a wonderful childhood, but it was when she became an adult that she realized her country changed.

“I started realizing that our country was not as great anymore. There was corruption, and there was a lot of crime,” said Rumbaugh. “When I went to college, I just felt that was my country, but that is not where I wanted to live anymore and build a family.”

So, she decided to pursue her dream to make a better life for herself and move to the United States of America.

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Nora Rumbaugh works    with Chip Parrot at the Claire Chapin Epps Family          YMCA in  Myrtle Beach.     Photo: Sharon Tutrone

Rumbaugh’s passion is swimming. It was that passion which turned out to be her golden ticket to freedom. She has been swimming since kindergarten and competitively for ten years.

“I came here on a student visa; it’s called a J-1. It gives a lot of opportunity to students to see how the lifestyle is here, to work here, to travel as well,” said Rumbaugh. “Once I got here, I said that was it. I love that country, and I decided to stay.”

A short time later the American Red Cross contacted the Bulgarian Red Cross, which Rumbaugh belonged since she was a lifeguard on the Black Sea. When Red Cross officials asked if she wanted to go to the United States to become a lifeguard, she jumped at the opportunity.

“I said that’s my dream so let’s go,” said Rumbaugh.

Rumbaugh arrived in America in 2003 and was sworn in as a United States citizen in 2011.

“That was the happiest moment in my life. We got sworn in, in Charleston and I just cried through the whole ceremony,” said Rumbaugh. “The process was tough, but everything was worth it because that was the best moment of my life.”

Today you will find Rumbaugh sharing her love for swimming by teaching others.

One of those learning from Rumbaugh is Triathlete Chip Parrot.

“Her confidence in me is what made me want to work hard,” said Parrot. “She is passionate about what she does which makes me want to work hard.”

Parrot had to face his fears before stepping into the water, and he had to learn to trust Rumbaugh.

“When we first started, I wanted to tell her that I haven’t been in the water for a long, long time and she smiled and said everything is going to be fine,” said Parrott. “I needed to hear that because it is intimidating to get in the water, especially to swim laps, not just playing around.”

While Rumbaugh is thankful to call the United States home, Parrot is grateful that she worked hard to get here. Because without her passion for swimming, he would not be half the athlete he is today.

“I am very lucky and blessed to have her; we have a good time out there swimming,” said Parrot.

For more information on swim lessons at the Claire Chapin Epps Family YMCA click here.