This Saturday morning from 9 a.m. to noon, more than 80,000 people will hit the California coast for a not-so-typical day at the beach. Coastal Cleanup Day is right around the corner and the state’s largest volunteering event continues to build awareness about the danger of marine debris.
Of the 1.2 million pounds of trash removed from our lakes and beaches last year 335,320 cigarette butts, 124,637 food wrappers, 64,517 caps and lids, and 32,124 straws were gathered. Staggering numbers indeed, which raises the question – How does all this debris end up on the shore?
“Eighty percent of trash comes initially from land,” says Linda Hunter, Executive Director of the Richmond-based Watershed Project. Last year over 600 people participated in the Watershed’s efforts to clean the coast and even more people are anticipated to help this weekend. “Every single year, more and more people want to do something to help.” Hunter says the dialogue has shifted from picking things up at the beach to “the root cause of the debris and where it all comes from.”
Events like those held by Richmond’s Watershed Project are happening across the region on Saturday. In Cerrito Creek, volunteers with the Friends of Five Creeks are working uphill of the shoreline, aiming to “get trash out of the creek, so it doesn’t get into the Bay,” says President Susan Schwartz. “There’s always a sprinkling of food wrappers, coffee cups, things thrown into gutters–little snacks and little junk food.”
And it’s that little stuff that gets mistaken for food by wildlife.
“Stuff that’s killing the birds, that’s the little plastic stuff,” says Hunter. Small plastic, Styrofoam, and fishing lines are just a few examples. “Some fish are eating more plastic than real food.”
That means education about keeping trash out of our waterways is just as important as beach clean-up.
Coastal cleanup volunteers at the Richardson Bay Audubon Center get a heavy dose of marine schooling before they head into the beach. Though the Tiburon beaches may look clean from a distance, first-time volunteers are often shocked to find droves of debris sitting in one spot. “Cups, packaging, little pieces usually come up from the water floating in the bay,” says educational director Wendy Dalia. “Anything out there can eat it – birds, small critters, fish, even sea turtles. Often times they starve to death because the hazardous material can’t be digested.”
Getting out of the Bay this weekend is a great start for anyone looking to lend a hand while learning what’s at stake for the Bay and the ocean beyond.
With hundreds of sites along most stretches of Bay and ocean shoreline, there’s sure to be a cleanup site near you. Find cleanups them on the California Coastal Commission website, or call 1-800-COAST-4U for more info.