Cleanup Time: Adopt a Beach

It’s a way of saying thank you for summer pleasures. It’s a way to protect ocean creatures great and small. It’s a way to make a good beach better.

What it is is California’s annual Adopt-a-Beach program, on Sept. 23 at a sand strand near you. Thousands of volunteers will be hauling away tons of debris from 1,600 miles of California coastline, from Border Field State Park on the Mexican border to Pelican State Beach on the Oregon border.

The event, this year sponsored by the California Coastal Commission and California Department of Conservation’s Division of Recycling, aims not only to clean up beaches but to instill a sense of pride in California citizens over what is often called “the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world.”

Southern Californians have long loved their beaches. Since before the turn of the century, when inland farmers took their families to the beach to camp out and cool off, the shores of San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara have served as resort areas. Many of the “watering places” of old still are popular--La Jolla, Laguna, Balboa, Venice, Ventura and Montecito.


The south coast offers not only those white sand beaches depicted on post cards but a wide variety of shoreline features--the palms of La Jolla and Santa Monica, the cliffs of Torrey Pines State Reserve and Palos Verdes Peninsula.

For good reason, Southern California’s beaches get lots of visitors, and for no good reason, these visitors leave plenty of debris. Before dawn, huge mechanized sand rakes scoop up trash and do an OK job of picking up after sloppy beach-goers. But the big machines miss a lot too, and the only way to clean the Southland’s little pocket beaches is by hand. That’s where the Coastal Commission’s Adopt-a-Beach program comes in.

“We hope to have every beach in San Diego cleaned by crews of 15 to 20 people,” says Gabrielle Soroka of I Love a Clean San Diego. Soroka, coordinator for San Diego County’s beach cleanup activities, is assisted by a dozen or more beach captains and what she hopes will be several hundred volunteers. “We’re working Border Field, Torrey Pines, Ocean Beach, Mission Beach, Coronado, Del Mar, Encinitas, Carlsbad, Solana Beach . . . well, all the way to Oceanside.”

Statewide Organizing


Similar organizing is taking place throughout the state. Each of California’s 15 coastal counties has a coordinator, numerous beach captains and, hopefully, hundreds of volunteers.

A survey of Southern California county coordinators revealed a wide variety of groups planning to adopt a beach. Participants will include the Sierra Club and Shell Oil, Exxon employees and the Audubon Society, Friends of the Ventura River and Amigos de Bolsa Chica, Parents Without Partners, state park rangers, the American Cetacean Society and troops of Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Kayak clubs will scoop up offshore flotsam and jetsam, and scuba clubs will clean dump sites of the deep.

“The sheer quantity of the trash is amazing,” says Pandee Leachman, Ventura County coordinator. “Last year, in our not particularly big, not particularly dirty county, our 500 volunteers picked up nearly 3 tons of trash.”

Research Subject

Leachman, who holds a full-time position as community relations specialist for the Ventura Regional Sanitation Department, has a more than passing interest in this year’s beach-trash pickup. “Washington is going to analyze our garbage,” she says, only half-jokingly.

It seems that this year the Washington-based Center for Marine Conservation is joining the California Coastal Commission in an effort to determine the types and amounts of debris that washes up on our nation’s shores. Volunteers in every California county will fill out data cards as they pick up refuse. Data will be sent to Washington and added to something called the National Marine Debris data base. Researchers hope to analyze sources of debris and offer hard facts to policy makers who are working on long-term solutions to the problem of waste dirtying the seashore.

The problem is more than the amount of debris that piles up, it’s the type of trash. Coastal debris not only is displeasing to humans, it’s deadly to marine wildlife. Giant 300-pound sea turtles swallow plastic bags and asphyxiate. Baby sea otters playfully poke their heads through plastic six-pack rings, then slowly strangle as they grow. Birds ingest Styrofoam and plastic objects with disastrous consequences.

The Sept. 23 statewide cleanup has special significance this year because it will officially kick off a year-round Adopt-a-Beach program. The Coastal Commission and county officials are looking for groups to commit to at least two additional cleanups during the year and to work in their communities to raise awareness about recycling as a solution to beach pollution.


“One really important part of the Adopt-a-Beach program is teaching people to share the responsibility of maintaining our public lands,” says Soroka. “When you’re out there on the beach carrying a heavy bag of trash, you start thinking of the kinds of products we produce, what we need and what we can truly be without.”

What citizen activists like Soroka believe is that the coast’s future depends not only on lawmakers and coastal commissioners, but on citizens adopting a new visualization, another way of looking at land and sea, a vision of the coastline not just as a sandbox for play but as a living thing placed in our trust.

How to Help Keep the Coast Clear

California’s fifth annual COASTWEEKS is scheduled for next Saturday through Oct. 9. Adopt-a-Beach Coastal Cleanup Day will be Sept. 23.

To volunteer, call:

San Diego County: I Love a Clean San Diego, (619) 270-8393.

Orange County: California Department of Parks and Recreation, Huntington State Beach, (714) 536-1454.

Los Angeles County: Several beach captains and organizations are organizing groups. Among them: City of Hermosa Beach (213) 318-0200; Venice Action Committee (213) 578-6242; Cabrillo Marine Museum (213) 548-7563; City of Long Beach (213) 434-2513; Playa del Rey (213) 821-2661, and in Malibu, Pepperdine University Volunteer Center (213) 456-4143.


Ventura County: Ventura Regional Sanitation District (805) 658-4632.

Santa Barbara County: Community Environmental Council (805) 963-0583.

Hot line for the Coastal Commission’s COASTWEEKS and Adopt-a-Beach program (800) 262-7848.