Beaches on Long Beach Island are open Sunday after being closed Saturday because of medical waste that washed up on the shore.

The Long Beach Island Health Department closed beaches across most of the island Saturday after lifeguards began finding multiple syringes in the retreating tide on the first day that beaches were guarded.

In a statement, the Long Beach Island Health Department said that medical waste in the form of insulin syringes washed up on beaches in Ship Bottom, Surf City, Harvey Cedars, Barnegat Light and a portion of Long Beach Township called North Beach Haven.

The agency closed beaches to swimming in those towns about 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

Along with medical waste, the debris found included a large amount of eel grass, wood, timber and plastics along with other floating trash, Health Department Director Tim Hilferty said.

Closing beaches at the start of the season is never an easy decision to make, but Hilferty said it was a necessary precaution.

“No, when you assess the situation, you have to take precautions and … make sure that the public’s best interest is served,” he said.

The source of the material was not identified, but the agency speculated it could have come from sewer-overflow systems or “from the inner shorelines of the New York-New Jersey Harbor areas.”

Hilferty said heavy rains sometimes swamp the capacity of storm outfalls, circumventing sewage-treatment plants. Debris such as needles end up being carried through storm pipes to the Atlantic Ocean.

None of the material is believed to have originated on the island, which does not have storm sewers that can overflow, Hilferty said.

Health Department and municipal officials planned to survey the beaches after high tide Saturday and again early today, expanding their survey to southern beaches on the island. The prevailing currents tend to carry debris south, he said.

“We’ll assess it as we go along. We have two more high tides,” he said.

The Ship Bottom Beach Patrol closed the borough’s beaches shortly after lifeguards took their stands for the day, the first day of the season on the island.

Ship Bottom Beach Patrol secretary Emily Quinn said the syringes appeared to be home-use hypodermic needles like those used by diabetics. The needles were found on beaches between Third and 26th streets in Ship Bottom. She could not immediately say how many needles were found. Lifeguards notified the Health Department and closed the beaches to swimmers.

Lifeguards gathered the needles they found and put them in plastic biohazard containers, she said.

Nobody was injured, Quinn said.

The needles began to appear between Saturday’s high tide at 6 a.m. and the low tide at 12:18 p.m., Quinn said.

Meanwhile, lifeguards in Surf City arrived at their stands to find the beaches littered with straw and garbage that washed up with the high tide, Mayor Leonard Connors said.

“There was a lot of trash, a lot of straw,” he said. “It was beyond our ability to cope with it. It was more than our ability to clean it up quickly.”

Connors said the debris was not a simple matter to remove. The city’s beaches are expected to be open today, he said.

“We’ll see if trash keeps coming ashore,” he said.

Contact Michael Miller:

609-272-7217