Butts Top Coastal Cleanup Trash

Written by Theresa-Marie Wilson

Theresa-Maria Wilson has been a journalist covering the North Coast and South County area for over 20 years. She is also the founder of Cat Noir CC and is currently working on a novel.

October 6, 2023

Some of the debris found at Toro Dog Beach/Morro Strand during the annual Coastal Cleanup Day coordinated by Environmental Center of SLO County. Photo submitted

Taking a walk along the Estero Bluffs is almost guaranteed beautiful views of sea stacks, wetlands, a beach, and the ocean. However, it is not the place one expects to find a discarded couch. The couch is gone as are many other trash items that could flow back into the ocean and harm or kill marine life.

Nearly 600 volunteers armed with work gloves, trash bags and buckets battled debris at 22 beaches and inland waterways during the 39th Annual California Coastal Cleanup Day organized statewide by the California Coastal Commission. The Environmental Center of San Luis Obispo County (ECOSLO) has organized local efforts since 2005. 

“We want the community to remember that every day is Earth Day,” Ellie Howell, ECOSLO volunteer coordinator, told Estero Bay News. “While this was one annual event that we love to celebrate, the values of the event and at ECOSLO hold true 365 days a year. We hope to see a future where nature and community thrive in San Luis Obispo County.”

 Some of the volunteers who joined in to keep the beaches and waterways clean. Photo submitted

Trash can fatally harm marine wildlife through entanglement, ingestion, and disruption of habitat. Marine debris can also be a danger to human health. Nails, glass, and syringes on the beach can cause physical harm to beachgoers. Additionally, trash in our waterways increases the number of pathogens and chemicals, impacting water quality.

Altogether, 3,829 pounds of trash was picked up, 236 of which was made of recyclable material. The creek behind SLO’s Mission Plaza had the most debris, which at first seems odd for such a small area compared to others, but Howell offered an explanation as to why.

“Mission Plaza was one of our sites that had more volunteers, so they were able to cover a much larger area when comparing it to a site that didn’t have as many volunteers,” she said. “Creek locations also typically have larger and heavier debris than coastal locations.”

The least amount of trash collected weight wise was at Morro Strand North/ State Beach Campground. 

“That number doesn’t necessarily mean there was a low volume of trash there,” Howell said. “Most of the debris found was small – smaller plastic pieces, dog bags, and plastic bags which hold little weight. It is important to remember that although these items hold little weight, they are still very destructive to the environment and it is good to bring awareness about the harms of using these items in outdoor areas, especially the harm they can cause to wildlife who ingest items like bits of plastic, balloons, and confetti.”

As has been the case for numerous years, cigarette butts were the most prevalent, but pieces of plastic and foam are rising, according to Howell. 

Local Stats

Los Osos – Baywood 39 pounds of trash, 16 volunteers

•Morro Bay – 205 pounds of trash 9 pounds of recycle, 87 volunteers

Cambria – 30 pounds of trash 2 pounds of recycle, 16 volunteers

Cayucos – 206 pounds of trash 21 pounds of recycle, 94 volunteers 

Do those stats mean we live amongst a slew of litter bugs who carelessly toss without thinking? Howell says “no.”

“Sometimes people forget to pack their trash when visiting natural places,” she said. “We hope that if they see an area that is pristine with no trash, they will be encouraged to keep it that way. Together we can encourage our community to keep our beaches, rivers, and parks litter-free.”

In the past there have been as many as 46 cleanup sites with close to 2,000 volunteers, but this year there were 22 with 590 volunteers.

“Each year is different,” Howell said. “We are still getting back into the swing of things since our biggest cleanup in 2019, where we collected 17,646 pounds of trash with 1,981 volunteers. The number of sites fluctuate year to year due to a multitude of reasons, including volunteer capacity and staff capacity. We aim to host as many sites as possible and hope to grow that number next year.”

This year was also a little different because of the massive winter storms we had that resulted in flooding and a tremendous amount of runoff from sites all over the county.  

“Because of the storms earlier this year, cleanup sites at inland areas like Lopez Lake were more popular over the summer, which led to higher litter levels, Howell said. “In previous years, with lower water levels, we were able to access trash that had been previously submerged.”

The California Coastal Commission states that close to 2,500 Californians took part that first year, and the California Coastal Cleanup Day program has been growing by leaps and bounds ever since. Since 1985, more than 1.6 million volunteers have removed over 26 million pounds of trash from beaches and inland waterways across the state.

In 1993, California Coastal Cleanup Day was recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “largest garbage collection” ever organized, with 50,405 volunteers. The event now takes place in almost every county across the state.

“This annual volunteer event empowers community members in SLO County to come together to protect our waterways, communities, wildlife, and our neighbors,” Howell said.

ECOSLO’s annual Creeks to Coast Cleanup is SLO County’s largest volunteer event as part of Coastal Cleanup Day. ECOSLO has served as the county coordinator for the event since 2005. For more information, go to ecoslo.org.

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