Today, I participated in the Annual California Coastal Cleanup Day for the first time, and it won’t be my last. The site I chose to help clean was the Ventura Harbor Beach across from the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center, which is one of my favorite beaches to visit recreationally in my free time. One of the reasons why I enjoy coming to this beach often is that I consider it to be clean and the sand enjoyable to walk in. So, I wasn’t expecting to find much trash here today, but wanted to give it a try anyway.
Driving into the harbor, I quickly realized that finding an available parking spot was going to be difficult-so many people showed up to clean! I found a spot and went to sign in. This event was well done. They had stations where people could gather to sign in, sign waivers, take Coastal Cleanup swag, buy eco-friendly sunscreen, drink water, borrow cleaning tools, and get information about safety tips for the cleanup. Off to a good start!
I put on my gloves, and with trash data collection sheet and bucket in hand, I began my search. After starting to clean about an hour after the event began and having so many other people already come and clean through this area, I was surprised to steadily find pieces of trash as I walked. Wow, these cleanups are necessary-so much more so at this beach than I previously realized! Though I found several pieces of trash that I couldn’t identify, my findings primarily consisted of the most likely to be found items listed on my data collection sheet, such as cigarettes and food wrappers, including two entire chip bags found in the rocks of a jetty. A more unique find was an old pacifier. I turned in my data sheet and weighed-in my collection of trash at 0.5 pounds.
Every little bit of trash collection on the beach counts, since it makes a direct impact on the fragile coastal ecosystem. Included on the list of many problems posed by marine debris is the fact that they are mistaken by animals as food. Because most trash isn’t digestible, if ingested by marine life, they will likely become ill or even die. These animals are also commonly trapped in trash just like some of what I collected today. Last but not least, I’ll mention the issue of plastic, which makes up most of marine debris and is what I found most of today on the sand. Pieces of toxic plastic gets ingested by marine animals, which get ingested by other animals, continuing on like this, poisoning the food chain (ending in humans). This large-scale poisonous effect also can be the result of microplastics, or tiny pieces of plastic that has been degraded from larger pieces. For example, sand crabs commonly eat microplastics. These microscopic pieces of non-degradable plastic can be found on pretty much any beach, but can be reduced by removing macroplastics from beaches before they degrade into smaller pieces. Coastal cleanups are a great opportunity to do that. The data collected through these events is also helpful with things like identifying what makes up most marine debris in an area so that efforts can be concentrated on reducing those items on beaches through public awareness and proposed legislative acts, like the plastic straw ban. After learning more about coastal cleanups, they’re something I plan on doing again in the future, one day including my kids.