If you are willing to give up half your Saturday in the name of the environment, mark your calender for Coastal Cleanup Day, Saturday, Sept. 15.
The annual event began in 1985 with only a few thousand volunteers. Last year’s cleanup drew more than 71,000 people who collected trash from hundreds of beaches as well as other waterways along California’s coast. San Mateo County reported 4178 volunteers that day.
Organized by the California Coastal Commission and coordinated by San Mateo Countywide Water Pollution Prevention Program in conjunction with local partners, the event’s objective is to bring community awareness to the importance of protecting the marine environment.
“This is my way of giving back to the community and to take the opportunity to educate volunteers about their marine environment,” said Peggy Ruse, 2011 site captain for Pilarcitos Creek. An environmentalist and trained docent with the California Academy of Sciences, Ruse seized the opportunity to inform her team of volunteers about some of the endangered species native to Pilarcitos Creek, such as the California red-legged frog or the San Francisco garter snake.
“Cigarette butts are a major cause for concern in our waterways, as the animals eat them and die,” she said. According to the Coastal Commission, cigarette filters have accounted for almost 40 percent of all the debris collected since 1989.
Ruse, who is the site captain for Montara State Beach this year, plans to slip in an environmental biology lesson related to the habitat.
“Maybe I will talk about birds in Montara,” she said.
Half Moon Bay has several sites at which volunteers can participate. They include, Francis State Beach, Dunes Beach and Poplar Beach.
Dylan Christensen, site captain for Francis State Beach this year, hopes that the cleanup gets volunteers to think about their own footprint on the Earth and where their trash comes from.
“People don’t know how it gets into our waterways and on our beaches from other places,” he said. According to Christensen, the public has little knowledge of the cascading effect of litter and pollution.
“Trash from neighborhoods and commercial areas is what pollutes the storm drains and eventually reaches our waterways,” said Matt Fraber, coordinator of the San Mateo Countywide Water Pollution Prevention Program.
Counties are increasingly required to reduce storm drain pollution. “Coastal Cleanup Day is one tool that will help our jurisdiction achieve this goal,” Fraber said.
This year the Coastal Commission has added the debris from the Japanese tsunami as a point of interest. Although only minimal evidence of the debris has been found along Northern California’s coast, volunteers are encouraged to be mindful of items that may have washed up as a result of the disaster that occurred last March.
“We are not expecting any debris, but, even if people were to find some, it is important for the public to know that it is not toxic,” said Eric Rutledge, site captain for Pilarcitos Creek. The meltdown at Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant took place after the tsunami washed away practically everything in its path.
All information recorded by volunteers regarding debris material is handed over to the Coastal Commission. There is even a competition for the weirdest item found statewide.
“Last year they found a trash bag full of left-footed shoes,” Rutledge said.