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Environmentalists band together on National Cleanup Day

David Lo and other volunteers help remove trash at Talbert Marsh during a coastal cleanup event in Huntington Beach.
David Lo and other volunteers help remove trash at Talbert Marsh during a coastal cleanup event in Huntington Beach on Saturday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Coastal cleanup efforts began bright and early on Saturday morning, as environmentally focused groups and individuals worked to make a difference locally over the weekend.

National Cleanup Day, the third Saturday of September, saw groups such as Orange County Coastkeeper, O.C. Habitats, and even high school students who have developed a passion for protecting the planet, work under a common goal to clean up their communities.

Amanda and Joe Vlietstra, a couple from Upland, showed their dedication to the process of beach cleanup, sifting through the Huntington Beach sands — on their hands and knees — to find “micro-trash” lying beneath the surface near the fire pits.

“This is what haunts me, is the micro-trash, the microplastic,” Amanda Vlietstra said. “This stuff gets back in the ocean. A fish isn’t going to eat a disposable diaper. They’re going to eat tiny shards of plastic. … I get the corners of energy bar packages. It’s micro-trash. It’s just something that you dig down a couple of inches, and there it is. I can just scan my hands and I’ll find things.”

Amanda Vlietstra combs the sand with her fingers as she searches for micro-trash during a beach cleanup event on Saturday.
Amanda Vlietstra combs the sand with her fingers as she searches for micro-trash during a beach cleanup event in Huntington Beach on Saturday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Kayla Pierce, 17, arrived at Huntington Beach with several students at 8 a.m. with plans to participate in beach cleanup until noon. Kayla, who identified herself as president of the Surfrider Club at Sunny Hills High, said members of the school’s Eco Club were participating in similar activities.

The sheer number of people contributing to the coastal cleanup effort seemed to act as a force multiplier, Kayla added.

“We don’t have a lot of trash, but I think collectively because there’s so many people out here doing it, every little bit helps,” Kayla said. “Even just walking around here, we were struggling to find trash, which is very rare because beaches are full of trash, but because there’s so many people here right now — working and volunteering and helping out the community. It’s nice to know that it is hard to find trash.”

Kayla, a senior at Sunny Hills, said the Surfrider Club at her school came into being during the coronavirus pandemic, and she commented that being a club officer makes her more self-aware of the impact her choices have.

Kayla Pierce, 17, left, and Amber Reuter, 17, right, of Sunny Hills High School, help remove trash during a beach cleanup.
Kayla Pierce, 17, left, and Amber Reuter, 17, right, with the Surfrider Club at Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, help remove trash during a beach cleanup event in Huntington Beach on Saturday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Erika Moe of Irvine was participating in trash pickup in the Talbert Marsh wetlands. She figured out a way to volunteer when she happened upon a flier while on a walk in Newport Back Bay. She vouched for volunteering as a way for people to try something new and see if it sparks their interest.

“I’m just trying it out, seeing if I want to move into this space, maybe work in conservancy and try to just get over in this area,” Moe said. “I also just like being outdoors in the morning. This is kind of my favorite time of day, so I thought kind of why not?

“The best way to get into that area, too, and see if I like it is probably volunteering, because you don’t have to totally commit, but it also gives you a good feel for what the environment is like.”

Moe said the volunteers were simply looking for items that did not belong in the marsh. Most of what she had found during her pickup was plastics, she said, but there were also a phone case and a jacket left behind.

Erika Moe, 22, of Irvine, picks up a sign as she helps remove trash at Talbert Marsh in Huntington Beach on Saturday.
Erika Moe, 22, of Irvine, picks up a sign as she helps remove trash at Talbert Marsh during a cleanup event in Huntington Beach on Saturday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

The California Coastal Commission and Caltrans also organized a “Trash-Free Jubilee” event, which called on Orange County volunteers to assist with cleanup efforts along Huntington Beach near Brookhurst Street.

“The California Coastal Commission’s Coastal Cleanup Day and Caltrans’ ‘Let’s Change This to That’ storm-water public education campaign are collaborating to create even more awareness to help reduce litter and water pollution,” Caltrans director Tony Tavares said in a statement. “We’re asking people to join us this month to clean up the waterways and beaches that belong to us all.”

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