Funky Folly smell caused by Mulinia shells

FOLLY BEACH, SC (WCSC) - It is not unusual to smell an occasional whiff of something funky on Folly Beach, but when the smell lasts for days - there could be a problem.

Three days after a reported dead fish smell, the town finished burying thousands of Mulinia shells Thursday that had washed ashore earlier this week.

"We smelled the fishy odor and thought maybe its from the restaurants throwing out trash maybe it's trash day," said tourist Cindy Fink.

But Finks said the smell wasn't bad enough to keep her off the beach.

"Whenever it got hotter the smell did get worse," said lifeguard Sam Parks.

In the 8 years Parks has worked at the beach, he says he has never smelled a stench like this.

"A lot of people were eating inside, I don't think a lot of people ate outside this week," Parks added.

When the Department of Natural Resources first started getting calls Monday, they heard there were thousands of Coquina shells on the beach. Instead they found Mulinia, a different kind of clam and one you normally won't see on shore.

"It's sub-tidal, always underwater," said DNR biologist Phil Maier. "And it's typically back in the estuary. It's all white as opposed to coquina which is multicolored."

Maier says they took samples of the Mulinia and the water trying to figure out why this happened.

"The thing you look for first is dissolved oxygen, low oxygen in the water, and we haven't seen that," Maier said.

So, it is likely a problem with the clams.

"We're looking more toward disease parasites that affect a certain species not something like water quality or pollution where you see a lot of animals affected," Maier added.

There has been no carryover into other animals and Maier said that they have not gotten any calls from any other beaches so it seems to be an isolated event on a small part of Folly Beach. Unfortunately for Parks, it happened right next to his lifeguard stand.

"We thought they were going to wash away eventually," Parks said. "But the current and tide didn't come up enough to take them  away."

So, the town of Folly Beach buried the bulk of them under the sand.

"Nature would take care of it, but folks are here enjoying the beach and don't want to smell rotting clams," Maier said.

Now the smell is all but gone and we might never know why it happened in the first place.

"This is a natural event as far as we can tell," Maier explained. "We're looking at water quality, looking at the animals there's no smoking gun."

A similar situation  with Mulinia happened on St. Catherine's Island in Georgia back in 1993 and officials there still don't know what caused it.

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