Volunteers work to make sure the coast is clean

Lake Machado is best known as the swampy hide-out of Reggie, the abandoned alligator who eluded animal control officers for two years. However, the 31-acre lake and surrounding Ken Malloy Harbor Regional Park serve as an important stopover for migratory birds.

Although Reggie was finally snagged with a dog-catcher’s pole in 2007 and trucked to the Los Angeles Zoo, alien species and pollution remain serious problems at the park, which is a receptacle for urban runoff from Los Angeles County storm drains.

Saturday morning, 144 volunteers armed with latex gloves, shovels and garbage bags scoured the weedy wetlands as part of the 22nd annual California Coastal Cleanup Day. In three hours they picked up more than 950 pounds of trash and recyclables, including empty spray cans discarded by taggers, a microwave oven, a shopping cart, a king-size mattress, a tire and a bowling pin with a doll’s head attached to the top.

Volunteer Alexa Aranjo, 17, shook her head in dismay as she eyed a tall pile of trash bags. “It’s a reflection of irresponsibility toward the earth that’s taken care of us,” she said. “Except for that bowling pin with the doll’s head. That’s just creepy!”

A $117-million water-quality and ecosystem rehabilitation project is planned for the wildlife sanctuary next year. In the meantime, it is listed in the nonprofit Heal the Bay’s annual beach report card as one of five “code red” sites. On Saturday, cleanup crews found discarded hypodermic needles and, as one volunteer put it, “condoms all over the place.”


More than 10,000 volunteers at 65 coastal and inland locations from Compton to Zuma Beach participated in the event coordinated by Heal the Bay, the California Coastal Commission and the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches and Harbors.

By day’s end, volunteers up and down the coast had collected 44,038 tons of trash, including a World War II-era gas mask, the front panel of a small home safe and a billfold containing $6 in cash that was fished out of the surf near the Santa Monica Pier. “We’re trying to track down the owner,” said Heal the Bay spokesman Matthew King.

Among those who plucked garbage out of the muck at Harbor Park was Jose Sandoval, 15, a Banning High School sophomore and expert bird watcher who arrived before sunrise to scout the willows and oaks for homeless encampments and gang hangouts.

“I wanted to make sure everyone who comes out to improve the habitat is safe and sound,” said Jose, an expert on the park’s treasured creatures — such as endangered least terns — as well as its unwanted imports: bullfrogs, apple snails as big as baseballs and Florida banded water snakes.

As Jose spoke, a 3-foot-long water snake surfaced near a floating mound of potato chip bags and plastic soda bottles. “We’re trying to get rid of them, but it’s tough,” he said, referring to the serpent.