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By Cristina Robinson

As the Education Coordinator at OC Coastkeeper, I have learned so much about how to be a better steward of my local watershed and environment, and love practicing what we preach to our students.

Before COVID, our education staff (myself & Dyana Peña) would be busy throughout the school year taking students on field trips to wonderful habitats and places throughout our various watersheds in Orange County. As much as I enjoyed our field trips, I couldn’t help but notice all the litter at every location.

I’m also a Tidepool Educator for Laguna Ocean Foundation and am constantly seeing trash in and around our tidepools that are in designated Marine Protected Areas. Though I didn’t want to be more active on social media, I decided to use my platform to educate others regarding plastic pollution, plastic alternatives, and zero waste options.

In the fall of 2019, I created the website to showcase all these resources, as well as an Instagram account to educate my followers on a more frequent basis.

In mid-October of 2020, my fellow litter-picking California State University, Long Beach marine biology alumni buddy, Janine Rodriguez, and I teamed up to start a trash project where we created stickers encouraging people to protect our planet from pollution and to include friends and family in cleanups.

We sell each sticker for $1 and pick up one pound of trash for every sticker sold, and then post a dedicated cleanup to the buyer on our respective social media accounts. Thus far, we have 938 pounds of trash to remove and have already removed 576.56 pounds! Learn how to order our stickers by checking out my Instagram or Janine’s @_trashygurl account.

Since we launched this project, I’ve been trying to do cleanups every weekend or so to chip away at our 903 pounds we have committed to remove with the support we received.

A Trashy Adventure at the Santa Ana River Mouth

During the last weekend of January, I had planned my weekly cleanup to be at the beach since I knew we would have intensified trash along our coast from the big rainstorm we had a couple of days prior. However, I was not expecting to witness or remove the amount of trash I found on Jan. 30 and Jan. 31, 2021.

On Saturday, Jan. 30, my friend Brittney, her two children, and her sister joined me for a beach cleanup as they had been the last few weekends. I had them meet me in the neighborhood across the street from the Frog House (for free parking), as I knew there would be a lot of trash to be found since we were at the end of the Santa Ana River Mouth (SARM).

This is where the Santa Ana River Watershed drains. It is this the largest watershed in Orange County and it travels across San Bernardino, Riverside, and Orange County.

We walked over to the Newport City side of the beach and picked up almost 50 pounds of trash within 30 minutes, just from what was around the jetties. While we were picking up trash in the rocks, we saw across from us what looked like a trash island and were horrified!

We then quickly weighed our first trash haul, emptied our bucket and bags of trash by compiling everything into a convenient tub we found, left this at my car, then walked over the Pacific Coast Highway bridge where we discovered a trash goldmine. The trash island was more of a trash peninsula, and quite frankly brought me to tears.

I have never seen so much trash congregated in one area before – ever. There were huge furniture items, shoes galore, so many facemasks, tons of food and beverage containers, toys, endless pieces of Styrofoam and plastic, and so much more. I posted videos on my social media story asking for help to join me in removing more the next day.

We refilled our bucket and bags as much as we could and made a pile of shoes we hoped to return to the next day. With no trash cans to be seen in near sight and my car on the other side of the river mouth, we luckily found a nearby abandoned shopping cart to push all the trash back to my car. After weighing all the trash hauls from Saturday, we were amazed that the five of us had removed 127.65 pounds of trash!

On Jan. 31, I came back to the SARM, but this time I parked my car in the Huntington State Beach parking lot since it was closer to the trash peninsula. My call for help was heard and some wonderful friends joined me in removing even more trash.

After a quick surf session and grabbing a balloon and some plastic pieces on the way to my car, Brittney and her kids joined me again in picking up trash starting in the parking lot. Dyana and her boyfriend, Chris, then joined us and once all our bags and buckets were full, we consolidated the trash and left it at my car to weigh later.

We then made our way to the trash peninsula where my friends Kaysha and Kelsey had started cleaning up the debris. They had been filling up their buckets, walking them to the nearest trash can (which wasn’t that near), and returning to do it all over again.

On this day, we tackled some huge heavy items (including the shoe pile from Saturday). Thanks to Dyana’s quick thinking, we got maintenance to help haul the heavy trash items.

Dyana’s sister and parents had also removed 30 pounds of trash to help us on the Talbert channel side of Huntington State Beach. Kaysha and Kelsey kept track of their weight of trash removed for the day, so that night we compiled our data (I had to triple check mine because I was in disbelief), but altogether we removed 397.69 pounds of trash! My personal weight of trash picked up for the entire weekend was 377.47 pounds.

I am simultaneously so proud of these efforts, but so sad that this much trash was there to begin with, and that still so much trash remains.

My friends that joined Sunday’s cleanup also keep track of all the trash they remove for their own amazing cleanup efforts. You can check out Kaysha Kenney’s Instagram and Kelsey Nannini’s Instagram to follow along with their conservation efforts.

How You Can Help Keep our Coast Classy, not Trashy

Please use this as a call to action to help in preventing this trash from draining to our coast by not littering, reducing your plastic and Styrofoam use, and doing neighborhood cleanups whenever you can.

At OC Coastkeeper, we are currently providing ‘Cleanup Kits’ that include a trash bag with two sets of gloves per household (adult & children sizes) and have these available outside our office door every Wednesday from noon to 2 p.m. We would also like to distribute these cleanup kits throughout Orange County, so please let us know where they are needed.

We are organizing Emergency Cleanups in areas with extreme litter accumulation before and after rain events. If you are experienced in cleanups and interested in joining our Emergency Cleanup Volunteer List, please fill out our quick Google Form. Feel free to let us know of any areas that need an emergency cleanup near you!