Manners at Wrightsville Beach


Feeding birds on beaches is a no-no, according to etiquette experts.

Don't lay your blanket too close to others. And don't shake it out in the wind..

And whatever you do, don't feed the gulls. Once you do, they'll stick around, squawking and flapping and when nature calls playing an icky version of beach blanket bingo.

When it comes to beach etiquette, there is a way to act and a way not to. Even the great outdoors has rules, it turns out. Problem is, they're mostly unwritten and often ignored.

"The beach is such an informal, relaxed kind of place," said etiquette expert Honore McDonough Ervin. "People who might normally have good manners, all good reason just flies out of their head and they do things that are offensive to others."

Not crowding other beachgoers, kicking up sand around people, playing music loudly or leaving trash or cigarette butts.

"The cigarette butt is particularly offensive, not just because it's ugly, but because the filters which are filled with contaminants get into the food chain," said Cindy Zipf, executive director of Clean Ocean Action, an environmental group. "They look like small crabs or fish to gulls, and they get eaten."

The general rule: Leave nothing on the beach except footprints.

Some taboos are less obvious. Digging deep holes in the sand and leaving them unfilled is discouraged; they're a hazard to walkers.

Beach umbrellas, too, can be hazards when not adequately fastened.

"Flying umbrellas, that's my pet peeve," said Sally Custer, 53, of Flemington, N.J., sunning herself on a beach chair in Ocean City one day last week. "I'm afraid of getting impaled. We've had some close calls."

Not keeping tabs on boisterous young children is rude, too, especially if they are kicking sand on or otherwise bothering other sunbathers, according to Ms. Ervin, co-author of the etiquette guide Things You Need to Be Told.

"You should keep kids on a fairly tight leash, not just because they're bothering others but because of their own safety," Ms. Ervin said.

On beaches where crabs and sea anemones outnumber swimmers, environmentalists have a gentle reminder: No poking, prodding or removing the creatures from their natural setting.

Feeding sea gulls is another faux pas, one almost universally reviled by beach regulars.

"I hate it when people feed birds right next to you," said Dee Murphy of Philadelphia, sitting under an umbrella on the beach in Atlantic City. "They bring food with them, intent on feeding the birds. Then they stop, and the birds just go to the next family, like they're saying, 'What've YOU got?'"

Dog droppings are a public enemy, too. Pooches are banned from Wrightsville Beach between April and October.

Rude neighbors become even more problematic on crowded beaches, where someone's sunburned nose is more likely to be out of joint.

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