Ten years ago Michael and Deborah Jagels were married on Main Beach and held their wedding reception at Las Brisas restaurant, overlooking Pacific Ocean waves crashing below. Every year since they have participating in the California Coastal Cleanup Day, fulfilling a civic duty if not an unspoken wedding vow to clean the beaches that have filled their lives with fond memories.
“We owe it to come out after all the tourists start to vacate and help clean the beach up,” said Deborah Jagels after the couple’s stroll along the shore.
This past Saturday, Sept. 17, the California Coastal Commission reported a statewide count of 62,963 volunteers who picked up 523,201 pounds of trash and an additional 68,543 pounds of recyclable materials, for a total of 591,743 pounds.
Roger Butow, organizer in Laguna Beach for the California Coastal Commission’s volunteer beach cleanup programs, reported 73 other volunteers also showed up at Main Beach, including D. Michael Bush, a local underwater diver who found that the trash along the bottom of the ocean disintegrated in his hands.
Even so, Butow reported that current cleanup volunteers only collect hundreds of pounds of trash today, about half the trash collected at the inaugural cleanup 11 years ago. But trash accumulation on our beaches is far from wiped out.
Local Rick Conkey manned the Aliso Creek Beach cleanup site, and stressed the value of the cleanup day’s ethic to the Aliso Nigel Dance Team, who devoted their Saturday morning to the cause.
Team co-captain Dominique DiPilla, 17, demonstrated her understanding of the issue. “A lot of people from our school come to this beach for bonfires so to be able to get rid of that trash so we can continue coming here is really important.”
This year, the California Coastal Commission awarded volunteers who found unusual items a $50 dollar gift certificate. The unusual finds included a bottle filled with centipedes in Fresno County and a photo strip of a couple with the man’s face scratched out in Sonoma County. At Aliso Creek, the dance team found beer bottles, broken glass, food wrappers, an old skateboard, and a construction level.
The Jagels reported that the oddest item they have ever found was a Laguna Beach street barricade wading in the rocky waters below the cliff.
“The most disgusting thing to me is all the cigarette butts. It’s like a huge ashtray,” said Deborah Jagel.
Although the origin of some treasures that wash up on the sand are mysterious, volunteers across the board reported the same substance was the lead beach pollutant: Styrofoam.
The Jagels, cleanup veterans, said they too have found more Styrofoam than anything else every year they have volunteered. Its origin is perplexing since beginning in 2004 polystyrene was banned in Aliso Viejo, followed by Laguna Woods, Laguna Beach and Laguna Hills by 2008.
Mike Hazzard, who manned the Aliso Creek cleanup site with Conkey, said “The biggest problem with our trash on the beach is that it should be taken care of proactively inland before it even hits our creeks.”
Eben Schwartz, Coastal Cleanup Day director for the California Coastal Commission, said in a statement, “It doesn’t seem to matter where people clean up anymore, as we have finally reached the point where there are more cleanup locations inland than there are along the coast itself. What seems to matter now is that everyone in California has the opportunity forge a connection to the coast. By cleaning up wherever they live, and helping to stop trash where it starts, they’re caring for our coast and ocean.”
The pressing issue of trash and pollutants entering the ocean from inland areas through creeks and drains is ever-present, especially during the rainy season. Results from the Coastal Cleanup Day validate the truth of spray-painted words above storm drains and next to creeks that read, “Drains to Ocean.”
Hayley Toler is a history major at Cal State Fullerton.