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September 16, 2009 > From sea to shining sea

From sea to shining sea

September 19 is Coastal Cleanup Day

By Alyson Whitaker

When California residents and visitors from other states and nations visit beautiful California beaches, they expect to find sand, surf, and most of the year, sun. What they don't expect to encounter is the trash that has accumulated along the scenic coastline.

From its northern edge to the southern tip, tourists come from the world over to experience the beauty and recreational opportunities that California native residents often take for granted. When visiting the beaches and inland waterways, minor careless littering can wreak havoc on not just the beauty, but the safety of creatures which inhabit it. Much of the trash left behind takes decades, if not centuries, to break down. Improper disposal of trash and debris can have a lasting detrimental effect on the environment.

The California Coastal Commission held its first Coastal Cleanup Day in 1985 to raise awareness of how personal choices and negligence can negatively affect the environment. In years since, it has grown into an international annual event. Every U.S. state with a coastline participates, including the Great Lake states, and even some inland states clean river and lake shores. Last year over 60 nations worldwide participated in the one-day event. That type of collective group effort can make a big difference in the quality of our coasts and waterways.

Wildlife living in or around the water is endangered by the garbage we leave behind. When plastic is ingested, it can block the intestinal track of an animal, eventually leading to starvation. Creatures can become entangled in the plastic of six-can rings, and because they lack the dexterity to untangle themselves, strangulation can occur. Rubbish pollutes drinking water, contaminates the food pyramid and the environment, and creates unhealthy living conditions for wildlife and humans alike.

Litter accumulates along the coastlines in several ways. The first and obvious one is direct disposal on the beach or in the water. Debris disposed of near inland storm drains can be swept away by rain and carried through the waterways, eventually ending up in the ocean. Cargo ships also add pollution through oil spills, unlawful dumping, or other hazardous disposal of waste. Through tides, the refuse can be carried hundreds of miles before washing onto shore.
The most common debris collected on Coastal Cleanup Day is cigarette butts. But more unusual trash has also been uncovered. A volunteer at a site last year discovered a briefcase full of graham crackers. Makes you wonder if there was a case full of marshmallows and chocolate nearby.

The City of Fremont is sponsoring nine sites along creek beds at this year's event. Irvington High is also sponsoring their own site, bringing the total clean-up sites in Fremont to ten. Other cities are sponsoring clean-up sites as well. Advance registration is required for volunteers - many sites are already full.

The East Bay Regional Park District is sponsoring several sites throughout Alameda and Contra Costa counties, including Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, Hayward Regional Shoreline and the Shoreline Interpretive Center in Hayward. Advance registration is requested for groups of 25 or more. The Park District will provide gloves and bags for volunteers, and snacks and water will be offered. A safety talk will be presented before the trash collection begins, urging all volunteers to use good judgment and caution to avoid injury.

Volunteers age six and up are welcome to participate. Children under age six will not be allowed. Wear sunscreen, comfortable shoes, and bring your own gloves. Long sleeves, long pants and a hat are also recommended. If you have a litter-picker, you're welcome to use it. Trash bags will be provided. This is a great opportunity for scout troops and high school students to meet their community service hour requirements, while making a difference in the communities in which they live.

Local coordinators weigh the trash collected at the end of the morning, and send the data to the California Coastal Commission, and then on to the Ocean Conservancy. Last year, nearly 80,000 volunteers in California collected over 1,600,000 pounds of trash and debris.

The three hour volunteer community event is an effort to raise awareness about the impact of our choices on the environment. After picking up dozens of bags of trash, visitors to the waters' edge may be less likely to carelessly dispose of their own. Bring your children along. Who knows? After a morning spent cleaning the coastline and waterways of our beautiful state, perhaps they'll be motivated to go home and clean their own room.

Coastal Cleanup Day
Saturday, September 19
9 a.m.-12 noon

Advance volunteer registration is required.

For a complete list of East Bay Park sites, and to register online, visit http://www.ebparks.org/getinvolved/volunteer/coastcleanup

For sites in Fremont, visit http://www.fremont.gov/index.aspx?NID=968

Additional listings by counties throughout the state and registration information can be found at the California Coastal Commission website: http://www.coastal.ca.gov. Click on Coastal Cleanup Day for links to locales.

For other opportunities contact oceanconservancy.org.

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