By Christine Wied
Saturday, September 15 will be the 28th Annual California Coastal Cleanup Day from 9:00 a.m. to noon at a number of sites throughout the State. On Coastal Cleanup Day thousands of Californians as well as people in other parts of the world, take time out from their busy schedules to clean up beaches and inland waterways to offer some relief and protection for marine and human life. Last year, 3,165 people in Ventura County alone picked up 12,810 pounds of trash, 1,880 pounds of recyclables in three hours covering 36.3 miles. Of the numerous items picked up, the top four items included 16,991 cigarette butts, 6,674 food wrappers and containers, 4,286 caps and lids along with 2,845 plastic bags. Fishing line, beverage containers, straws and a wide variety of items were also removed.
Why is it important to remove these items from the beach? Not only do they pose a threat to marine life, human safety, waterway navigation and our economy but also spoil the beauty of our shorelines. Marine life get caught in the debris or consume it (plastic bags can look like jelly fish) thinking it is food. Plastic does not biodegrade but rather breaks up into thousands of tiny pieces. It can also absorb oil or other toxins that may be in the water. Plankton feeders ingest the plastic along with their normal food sources. In some areas of the ocean the ratio of plastic to plankton is ten to one. The plastic may not only impact the marine creature that ingests it but because of the toxins in the plastic may cause genetic mutations that have an effect on its offspring for many generations. There can also be health concerns about some fish that is consumed by humans. Cigarette butts are also ingested as a false food source. Because the filters, made from cellulose acetate, collect the carcinogenic chemicals from the cigarette, when released in water can become a biohazard to some aquatic species.
Broken glass, sharp metal items or discarded syringes can pose an immediate threat to those walking on the beach or in the water but so do medical and personal hygiene debris, pet feces, fertilizer and pesticide runoff that get into the water through stormdrains and affect the beaches and water quality.
The majority of marine debris originates on land with about 20% coming from commercial and recreational vessels and offshore petroleum platforms. It is the stray litter discarded miles from the beach that flows through inland waterways, stormdrains or wind and end up with the items carelessly left at the beach. All these sources are preventable. This year, California Coastal Cleanup Day will also be looking for any items that may be coming ashore due to the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
If you wish to participate in Coastal Cleanup Day, go to www.cityofventura.net/volunteeropportunities and sign up for sites in the City of Ventura. For other cleanup sites in Ventura County visit www.vccoastcleanup.org. Participants should bring their own bucket or other container to collect debris as well as a pair of sturdy work gloves. We don’t have to wait for a special organized cleanup event to do our part in keeping our beaches and waterways clean. Anytime you see litter anywhere, pick it up. When at the beach use a pack-in, pack-out strategy for all items. If we all take responsibility for our own waste, our streets, waterways and ocean will be cleaner and safer.