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Service Saturday: World Surfing Reserve Beach Clean-up July 19

Yesterday morning, I picked up tiny pieces of plastic, cigarette butts, and other trash carelessly left by beachgoers during a two-hour beach cleanup at Seabright Beach in Santa Cruz. It began at 11 AM, so after a quick breakfast, I biked from my new place to the shore of Monterey Bay, looking forward to my first beach cleanup.

I had been struck by a desire to participate in a beach cleanup on Tuesday of last week after stopping by West Cliff Drive on my way home from work. Sitting on a bench overlooking the Bay, I realized that I had never done a beach cleanup, although I've helped with cleanups of other kinds before on campus at UC Santa Cruz. I committed to myself that I'd do one soon, and then pedaled on home.

That same afternoon, I checked my email and saw a message from Surfrider Foundation, announcing a World Surfing Reserve beach cleanup on Saturday, July 19. Wow, talk about the universe really aligning things for you! I immediately joined the Facebook event page and promoted it on my wall, hoping to inspire others to join me. I didn't recognize anyone at the cleanup on Saturday, but perhaps it planted a little seed in their minds that may eventually grow into participation at a future cleanup.

When I arrived at the beach, there were two pop-up tents with materials for the cleanup, information about ocean conservation methods, how to grow ocean-friendly gardens, and details about the work of the Santa Cruz Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, Bureo, and Save the Waves, the three organizations that organized the clean-up.

A video by Save the Waves states that "In 2012, Santa Cruz was dedicated as the fourth reserve in a prestigious network of World Surfing Reserves." This cleanup helps to highlight that, as well as work to protect the waves and life that live in those waves. It is so cool to me that surfers are giving back to the waters they love so that they can not only continue to surf in pristine waters but also to protect the oceans for future generations to surf, enjoy, and appreciate. You can watch the video on Youtube here.

Bureo is a new skateboard company with a ocean conservation mission, and I had heard about them a few days ago when they tweeted at the UCSC Sustainability Office. I retweeted them and followed them, inspired by the work they are doing. I'll let them tell their story via the About Us section of their website:

"Launched by three friends (Ben, David, Kevin), Bureo was founded through a deep connection with the ocean environment. Becoming aware of the various threats to our waterways, we made it our mission to do something about ocean plastics. We started dreaming big and left our safe careers behind in search of solutions. Our answer was ‘Skateboards for Plastic-Free Oceans’.

"The name ‘Bureo’ comes from the language of the Mapuche, the native Chileans, and means ´the waves’. Selected in honor of the Chilean people, the name represents our mission. Just as a wave originates from a disturbance of wind along the ocean surface, Bureo is starting with a small change in an ocean of plastic. Through time and energy, the waves of Bureo will develop the force required to cause real change.

"Bureo’s innovative boards are made in Chile through the team’s initiative, ‘Net Positiva’, Chile’s first ever fishnet collection & recycling program. Polluting beaches and oceans across the globe, polymer based discarded fishnets, threaten marine mammals and ecosystems. Net Positiva provides fisherman with environmentally sound disposal points in Chile, while Bureo receives highly recyclable and durable raw materials. This is how it works:

Click the image for larger view or click here to view it on their website.

Pretty cool stuff! Bureo was raffling off one of their skateboards, and anyone who participated in the cleanup received a free raffle ticket. Ultimately, one of the organizers for the cleanup won, and she gave it to an adorable pair of twin girls who had participated in the cleanup. They also had a fishnet on the table to show what they look like, as well as a jar of the ground up netting that they use for making the skateboards.

After I arrived and signed in, I was given a pair of reusable gardening gloves and two plastic trash bags--one for trash and one for recycling. I was told to go wherever I wanted on the beach and to bring the bags back when they were filled. The cleanup was happening until 1 PM, which was when they would do the raffle, group photo, and weigh-in of the items collected.

I set off, combing through ice plant along the edges of the beach near a hillside. The going was slow, and my method was to closely observe my entire area before moving on. Most of what I found was cigarette butts, small pieces of plastic, bottles, and other random items. While exploring under the lifeguard shack, I found a partially eaten cinnamon roll and pieces of purple confetti. I scaled up the side of a cliff to collect a Capri Sun packet, and on the way down I picked up some glass and an empty soda cup.

Farther down the beach, I found a kitchen knife, a rusty tool that I couldn't identify, empty alcohol bottles, and a child-size Croc shoe. It was quite the assortment of trash, and unfortunately most of what I collected was trash and not recycling. Surprisingly, I only found one plastic water bottle, but the amount of other miscellaneous plastic pieces was pretty frustrating. Those little pieces of plastic are the ones that blow their way into the water and eventually end up in some poor fish's belly. Along the food chain, some poor bird or larger fish or shark eats that fish and gets a belly-full of plastic. The toxins from that plastic not only kill these animals but can end up in food we eat--like tuna and other larger fish whose food supply is riddled with our trash. Yum.

The above three images are from the Surfrider Foundation Santa Cruz Facebook album.

After two hours of searching around the sand for trash, I returned to the tents and showed the organizers the knife and tool, and made sure I had sorted recycling properly. There were already bags and bags of waste from others who had been collecting. The final numbers from Surfrider's Facebook post came out to 53 volunteers who removed 1,226 cigarette butts, 37 pounds of recycling, and 79.2 pounds of trash (116.2 lbs total)! Collective efforts really do make a difference.

To cool off after the cleanup, I stood in the waves and considered going all the way in. I had worn my bathing suit in case the heat made me want to jump into the freezing waters of the Bay. The water was just too cold, though, and it wasn't hot enough outside for me to take the plunge. Plenty of other people were in the water, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. Some day soon I will. 

The biggest take-away for me from yesterday's clean up is this: If you aren't part of the solution, you're part of the problem when it comes to littering and our oceans. Each of us has a responsibility to pick up litter when we see it on our beaches--and in other places, too. When we let trash sit there despite being easily capable of picking it up, we perpetuate the idea that it's ok for it to be there. Especially when it comes to our oceans, it is not okay to simply expect someone else to pick it up. Even if you don't live near the ocean, your local watershed may flow into a bay at the end of its journey, and any wildlife who live near you can be affected by plastic pollution. Picking up litter you see in your daily life--and of course not littering in the first place--can really make a difference for wildlife and the preservation of our oceans... and if you don't care about that, then think about the human beings who are going to end up eating that plastic in some form when they bite into their sushi or grilled fish. If my words aren't convincing enough, I'll leave you with this awesome public service announcement from Surfrider Foundation:


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