MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (WBTW) — A Coastal Carolina University graduate has made protecting the oceans her mission.

Cheyenne Cunningham, now a graduate student at the College of Charleston, knows the true meaning behind World Oceans Day, which is Thursday. She said studying the oceans for many years has made her aware of the issues when it comes to protecting them.

During her studies, Cunningham has focused on bridging the gap between knowledge-holders and decision-makers, or scientists and politicians. She said is it increasingly important for everyone to be on the same page because there are a lot of complexities.

Having lived on the Grand Strand in the Lowcountry and having studied the ocean for a long time, Cunningham said many of the problems are ones that have been around a long time.

“I would say that erosion, coastal erosion, has certainly become more of an issue,” Cunningham said. “I noticed it firsthand here in Folly Beach. I think coastal processes are becoming a little bit more aggressive in terms of erosion, erosion issues, and having to replenish and renourish the beaches more frequently.”

The key to solving the problems is education, said Cunningham, who teamed up with CCU to start a coastal cleanup project three years ago after finding out that there was not one United Nations-sanctioned World Oceans Day event in either of the Carolinas.

The project has grown by leaps and bounds over just a short time with more and more people participating each year in cleanup events like the one scheduled from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Thursday on the beach next to the Myrtle Beach SkyWheel.

There are also cleanup events scheduled in Folly Beach, and Cunningham said her project has even been extended to Hawaii and the Galapagos Islands. Once people know how important the oceans are, only then will they start to protect them, she said.

“I always wondered how people could litter the beach,” Cunningham said. “You know what I mean? How they just do that and they have like, no, they’re not coherent to it. And that was something that always stumps me so much. Something that I’ve learned over the years is that what people don’t know, we cannot expect them to protect,”

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Taylor Maresca is the weekend morning anchor and morning reporter at News13. She joined the team in June 2022 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Taylor is from Houston. Follow Taylor on Twitter and read more of her work here.