The World’s Biggest Cleanup: CCD 2015

This year was the 26th annual Coastal Cleanup Day, and hundreds of volunteers gathered at over 50 cleanup sites throughout Los Angeles County to do their part in helping the environment. The cleanup included both coastal and inland sites, and there were even some sites where one could clean on SCUBA! Some other CSUN graduate students and I gathered at Will Roger’s Beach on that sunny Saturday, some of us never having participated in a beach cleanup and not sure what to expect. However, I was truly impressed with the crowds that trickled in from LA County to do their bit for cleanup. Southern California cleanup sites were only a fraction of those that occur worldwide in more than 90 other countries, but just under 9,500 volunteers participated in the southern California cleanup this year. In total, it is estimated that 21,310 pounds of trash were removed after volunteers traversed 60 miles of territory, which brings the total poundage for Heal the Bay during the last 26 years of cleanups to over 1.7 million pounds!


The bulk of the collected items include cigarette butts, wrappers, Styrofoam pieces, but some unusual and larger items like shopping carts and eclectic paintings were discovered. While most of the things my group found were small (less than 2.5 cm), their accumulated abundance shows that even small objects can have a great impact on the environment. These small pieces of plastic, foam, and paper become entangled in algae, are ingested by fish, and can eventually make their way back to our dinner plate. Microbead exfoliates found in many personal care products can accumulate enough toxins to be one million times more toxic than the surrounding water…could you imagine ingesting the fish that ate hundreds of those tiny beads throughout its lifetime?


I think that coastal cleanups are a great first step for anyone who wants to make a change in their community, but is unsure where to start. It becomes more than just picking up trash, and can spark one’s interest in making a change. One of the greatest feats scientists face is communicating their research to the public, policy makers, and stakeholders, and in some small way these cleanups can be a catalyst for gaining the ear of the public. These events expose the public to how much we pollute the environment, and may make them more likely to listen when we’re communicating changes to the environment that maybe aren’t so easily seen (e.g., climate change, ocean acidification, oil spills). On the other hand, these events are beneficial to scientists and researchers too, because they are a physical way for us to remind ourselves why we do what we do. I’m certainly guilty of getting so caught up in small details of my research that I forget the bigger picture, and the cleanup helped remind me of the greater goal: to understand the ways ecosystems can be affected, and use that knowledge to better the environment for the future.

via supplyshield

The massive amounts of garbage people picked up this Saturday are a small—but very visible—reminder of our impacts on the ocean and environment, and this event was a great way for people to see how much can be accomplished when everyone is working towards a common goal. Seeing the crowds of people wanting to help gives me hope, and seeing the piles of trash collected makes me even happier. Next year, I’m considering doing the SCUBA trash cleanup! Who’s with me?



Photocred: Nicola Buck

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