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Beach Combers Total Tons : Volunteers Clean Up With Dumpsters-Full

TIMES STAFF WRITER

If--as many county residents proclaim on bumper stickers--life is a beach, then Saturday was the day about 3,000 of them opted to clean up their lives.

On beaches from Bolsa Chica to San Onofre, anti-trash troops took garbage bags in gloved hand for the seventh annual Coastal Cleanup Day, the state-sponsored campaign that pits volunteer collectors against the litter marring California beaches.

At 15 county sites, the combined trash weighed in at about 16 tons by 6 p.m., with several collection sites still not counted. Figures for the effort statewide were still being tallied but appeared likely to top--if not double--last year’s total of 153 tons. About one-fourth of the garbage throughout the state was glass, aluminum and plastic that was separated for recycling.

This year’s cleaning crews also set their sights on inland waterways for the first time. Volunteers at Upper Newport Bay accounted for more than 12 tons of the county’s total.

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Officials said the 1,200 workers there, on foot and in boats, racked up the high numbers because much of the garbage in the rarely cleaned bay included heavy objects, such as refrigerators and bicycles.

Officials with the California Coastal Commission, which organized the cleanup, said the campaign’s value goes far beyond a day’s worth of tidiness. The larger goal is to get people to talk trash all year round.

“We want people to know that the mess on the beach isn’t just from beach-goers who don’t put their garbage in a can,” commission spokesman Jack Liebster said. “It’s also from the people who pour old oil into a storm drain, or people who toss a cigarette onto the street. It all gets drained to the ocean, and it all washes up on the beach.”

That pollution awareness was evident Saturday at the sign-in tables of various county sites. Besides arming volunteers with garbage bags (blue for refuse, green for recyclables), gloves and claw implements, organizers passed out brochures on conservation tactics and the commission’s adopt-a-beach program, under which community and private groups sign up to clean specific sections of a beach.

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The Huntington Beach state and city beaches had a particularly strong turnout, with 650 collectors--triple last year’s turnout--amassing 10 dumpsters full of cans, bottles and general refuse by noon. Among the volunteers were corporate employees, the Orange Coast College football team and many locals who just happened by the information booth.

“We live right around here, and we walk down here every day, so when we saw the table over there we decided to help out,” said Joe Naccaro, 59, who volunteered along with his wife, Sue, 57.

“We think this is great,” he said. “People should help clean up all the time. Sometimes the place is such a mess you stumble over garbage, so you might as well pick it up anyway.”

The 17-year resident said similar cleanup campaigns should be scheduled to counter budget cutbacks that reduce municipal maintenance. “I don’t think people would mind coming out,” he said. “It’s healthy work, and you get the sunshine.”

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At Laguna Beach, the volunteers included a club of Campfire Girls from El Toro. The six girls and their adult leaders squeezed the cleanup in before playing in an 11:45 a.m. soccer game. The highlight of their shore scouring was finding a discarded steak knife.

“It was just sitting there, sticking right up out of the ground,” said Margie Watson, one of the adults, who added that the youngsters were a bit disappointed by the mundane news that the knife was probably just a discarded picnic utensil.

“The girls really wanted some murder mystery,” she said.

For the Campfire Girls--and just about everybody who joined the cleanup--the most common find was the lowly cigarette butt. Erin Graney, 11, won an impromptu competition among the girls by collecting about 50 butts in 10 minutes.

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Liebster of the coastal panel said that has become a tradition with the event.

“Last year, and every year, the No. 1 find is cigarette butts,” he said. “A lot of people think they are made of paper and biodegradable, but they aren’t. The filters are made of a complex plastic mixture, and they don’t biodegrade.”

Liebster said the debris most dangerous to marine life is plastic bags, fishing lines and plastic connectors from six-packs.

The bags are a threat to turtles, such as the endangered leatherback and the threatened green turtle, which mistake them for their favorite meal, jellyfish.

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“The movement, the color and the shape just fool them,” he said. “So we find these turtles with huge wads of plastic in their stomaches, which gives them a false sense of satiation--leading to starvation.”

Liebster said fishing lines cut or strangle seals and water fowl, while floating six-pack rings often choke birds that dive toward them.

“That’s why we try to tell people that this stuff isn’t just ugly and costly.” he said. “It kills.”

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