Inland O.C. students celebrate Kids Ocean Day in Huntington Beach

Children pick up trash on a beach and put it into a bag
Third-graders from Handy Elementary School in Orange collect trash during Kids Ocean Day at Huntington State Beach on Tuesday.
(Kevin Chang / Times Community News)

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer, but trash on the beach never takes a vacation, as nearly 600 elementary school students from inland Orange County learned Tuesday morning at Huntington State Beach.

Orange County Coastkeeper held its annual Kids Ocean Day celebration, sponsored by the California Coastal Commission, for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Students from nine elementary schools in Santa Ana, Anaheim, Garden Grove, Orange and Stanton participated, picking up trash at the beach north of Magnolia Street.

Kids Ocean Day is an annual statewide celebration to protect the world’s oceans. The theme this year was “Discovering Joy in Nature.”


Aerial view of people standing on a beach to spell out "Share Joy" with images of a seahorse, smiling face and whale tail
Nearly 600 Orange County elementary school students combined to make human art Tuesday at Huntington State Beach.
(Peter Pham / Orange County Coastkeeper)

After picking up more than 115 pounds of trash, the children then posed for a human aerial artwork display near Tower 11. Their bodies spelled out “Share Joy” and depicted a seahorse, smiling face and whale tail, as a drone took a photo from above.

Each student will get a postcard with a picture of the art they helped create.

“This has a dual purpose,” said Ray Hiemstra, associate director of programs for Orange County Coastkeeper. “Certainly bringing kids down to learn about ocean issues and trash in particular, but also, for a lot of these kids this is the first time they’ve been to the beach. You know, once you’ve been someplace, then you feel more comfortable coming back.

“It’s amazing. For a lot of people in Orange County, most of whom live within 10 miles of the beach, a lot of people have never been here. That’s really important, that coastal access.”

Students sitting in the shape of letters on the beach
Students from Eisenhower Elementary School in Garden Grove, seated foreground, participate in forming the message “Share Joy” for a human aerial artwork display during Kids Ocean Day at Huntington State Beach on Tuesday.
(Kevin Chang / Times Community News)

Parent chaperone Tuin Nguyen carried around a checklist for her son, Ian, and a few of his friends. Ian is a fifth-grader at Eisenhower Elementary in Garden Grove.

The group collected many pieces of plastic, as well as rubber and Styrofoam. Other common objects on the list included metal, such as batteries or nails, and cigarette butts.

“These are all things they can relate to,” Hiemstra said. “We can talk about, you know, ‘Remember those balloons at the birthday party? Make sure they don’t get away, because here’s where they end up.’ One of the things we find the most are those little drink box straws, and a lot of these kids are drinking out of boxes. Maybe they’ll be more careful with the straws both at home and when they come back. Unfortunately, we never run out of trash.”

Nguyen said this was her son’s first visit to the beach since the pandemic began.

“I think it’s a great experience for kids to know how to keep the environment clean for the next generation, their generation,” she said. “We ruined it, but they can clean it. We can clean it for them, hopefully.”

Sophia Ochoa, 9, is a fourth-grader at Peters Elementary in Garden Grove. She said she will remember the lessons she learned Tuesday the next time she visits the beach.

“If the trash gets into the ocean, it could hurt the animals,” she said. “The animals could die, and we really don’t want that.”

Dyana Peña, deputy director of programs for Orange County Coastkeeper, organizes the annual event. She likes to tell the story of one kid in the past who ran up to the edge of the sand but stopped before stepping onto it and asked, “Can I walk on that?”

Children pick up trash on a beach and put it into bags
Third-graders from Handy Elementary School in Santa Ana collect trash at the beach Tuesday.
(Kevin Chang / Times Community News)

Peña wants the children to know the answer is an emphatic “Yes.” Before Kids Ocean Day rolls around each year, she visits participating campuses for an assembly to educate the children on the sources of marine debris and how to take care of it.

She said two switchblades were also found Tuesday morning, but those were handled by professionals and not the students.

“My priority is for them to have a good day here,” she said. “A lot of them don’t get to visit the beach very often, so I want to help to remove any of those barriers — the time, the transportation, the fee to get in. We want to make them feel welcome here. If they live in Anaheim, Santa Ana, Garden Grove, a little bit more inland, the Orange County coastline is still theirs to enjoy and protect.”