It is no secret that Howard Hogue, affectionately known as “Beach Santa,” loves the Isle of Palms. He has single-handedly removed almost 1 million pieces of litter from the IOP public beach and other parks, roadsides and boat landings around Charleston and Berkeley counties.
As of Nov. 14, Howard had completed 365 litter sweeps so far this year alone, and he’s not slowing down even after enduring two major heart operations since last Christmas. A Moncks Corner resident, Hogue discovered his passion for cleaning up the environment during a visit to the island.
“It’s been an amazing journey for me, it all started by me going to the beach,” Hogue shared. “Isle of Palms is my favorite beach, but all the litter I saw just floored me. I said to myself, I didn’t drive all this way to sit among the litter. And the beach draws a lot of people, a lot of tourists, and it’s nice seeing clean.”
In 2018, Hogue connected with Susan Hill Smith, co-founder of the IOP Cleanup Crew, and has been deeply involved in the organization ever since and often serves as a facilitator, educating volunteers about the importance of keeping the environment litter-free.
“It’s nice when I’m helping to facilitate the beach sweeps,” said Hogue. “I can talk to people, share my story and inspire other people. I tell people, when I’m doing it I’m not doing this for me, I’m doing this for your future grandchildren, to keep Mother Earth clean and help her heal.”
Using the South Carolina Citizen Science app, available for free download, Hogue has documented more than 920,000 pieces of litter since his first litter sweep in July 2018. “I’m averaging 463 pieces of litter, and in that number 129 cigarette or cigar tips, or e-cigarette products per sweep,” he said. “About 28 percent of what I pick up is smoking related, and that’s terrible.”
In July 2021, Hogue’s commitment to the island and stewardship of its beaches was honored with the Signal 30 Award, a distinction typically reserved for IOP residents, which is a testament to Hogue’s impact in the community.
“Receiving that award I felt very honored, because I want to make a difference in the world,” he reflected. “I was surprised by it, and to receive it for doing something that I enjoy made it even more special to me. Hopefully it inspires others that they can do something too.”
Beach Santa is filled with gratitude for all there is to celebrate recently. On Dec. 1, Hogue turned 73, and he looks forward to kicking off the new year by sharing his millionth item of litter collected and documented with the entire community.
“It will probably be a big deal to achieve 1 million items,” Hogue said. “When I did my half-millionth item, I did it on the Isle of Palms. The date, time and location of my millionth item picked up will be announced when I get closer, and of course I will confirm with the ladies from the South Carolina Aquarium about the accuracy of my numbers.”
Hogue’s incredibly detailed records are impressive to those who have the opportunity to review them. He not only carefully documents each item picked up, but even makes note of additional details like the brand of a can of soda or beer left behind by beachgoers.
While Hogue won’t be dressing up as Beach Santa this year due to the unpredictability of his health, you’re likely to still catch him at a beach sweep this December donning his holiday Hawaiian shirt depicting Santa’s sleigh pulled by a fleet of sea turtles, or a warm Christmas sweater.
This Christmas, and every year, Hogue has only one wish – for others to join him on the journey to a cleaner, healthier environment. “It is satisfying for me to go out and do something every day, and to set an example to inspire other people to be part of the solution.”
By Heather Rose Artushin