Keith Merrill is a 54-year-old orthopedic surgeon who lives in West Ashley and owns rental property on Folly Beach; that's not the kind of bio you might expect from a life-long surfer who just four years ago became involved with the Surfrider Foundation. But, as they say, don't judge a book by its cover. And as Merrill says, "You make a living by what you get, you make a life by what you give."
As chairperson of the Charleston Surfrider Chapter, Merrill's main goal is to increase the number of active members the organization has. By doing this, he believes that activists can increase public awareness of the issues affecting ocean life caused by plastics, trash, and other contaminants.
In fact, volunteering with this organization is a dirty job. Trash is the number one thing the organization deals with. The group has always organized Beach Sweeps, which are basically trash pick-ups that go one step further: the volunteers sift through the garbage and separate it into recyclables.
Now Surfrider is getting specific with their containments: cigarette butts, plastics, and dog feces.
The Butts Out program is aimed at eliminating cigarette butts on the beach. According to Merrill, "The toxins that the cigarette butts filter out are leached into the land and surrounding waters when they are littered."
Merrill is working with James Island Charter High School to build 20 cigarette cannons to hold the discarded filters. They will be placed at walkovers on Folly.
In addition, Surfrider is pushing "personal ashtrays" to beach-goers, which allow smokers to clip the ashtrays to their shirts. They come in a variety of colors and, best of all, look like derrieres.
In the Rise Above Plastics Campaign, the goal is to reduce the number of plastic bags and single-use plastic water bottles. "Both of these are found all over the oceans," Merrill says. "To turtles, plastic bags look like a jellyfish. So, they try to swallow them and end up choking."
The Charleston Chapter also plans to design and purchase Surfrider reusable canvas bags and sell them to the public.
Dog poop is also being targeted by the foundation. According to Merrill, "Dog feces are the number one bacterial containment of water in populated areas."
So, the group brought in Mitt Mutts, corn-based biodegradable bags which they have placed at doggie pick-up stations at the busiest walkovers on Folly.
In addition to these programs, Surfrider is involved in "monitoring and opposing over-development of the local coast," Merrill says.
Merrill has always been an environmentalist and joined Surfrider Foundation because he wanted to help out with a good cause. He accepted the job as chairperson "because I knew it would motivate me to do more, and I wanted to reap the rewards of doing something good."
P.O. Box 14065 • Charleston, S.C. 29422
What it is
The Surfrider Foundation is a nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world's oceans, waves, and beaches for all people, through conservation, activism, research, and education (C.A.R.E).
What would $25 do
• Provide seed money for reusable grocery bags (canvas)
• More environmental activism and enthusiasm from the public