Hundreds of Volunteers Clean Up the Bay's Shores

More than 400 volunteers turned out on September 16 to help collect litter at two Port of Oakland properties.

Mayor Libby Schaaf of Oakland joins volunteers in September to help collect litter on Port of Oakland properties. Photo courtesy of Port of Oakland

BY BILL PICTURE

 

More than 400 volunteers turned out on September 16 to help collect litter at two Port of Oakland properties. The shoreline sites—the East Creek Slough near Oakland International Airport and Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in the heart of the Oakland Seaport—were among dozens throughout the state that participated in the 33rd Annual California Coastal Cleanup Day, part of the even larger International Cleanup Day.

 

More than 60,000 volunteers were expected to participate in the statewide effort, part of more than 500,000 people around the world in 91 countries.

 

“I’ve been with the port for 17 years, and this was definitely the best turnout I’ve ever seen,” said Port of Oakland spokesperson Marilyn Sandifur. “I haven’t been around since the very first cleanup, so I can’t really say it’s the biggest ever—but it’s definitely one of the biggest.” Sandifur credited the turnout to the general public’s heightened sense of social and environmental responsibility.

 

“We certainly did a lot of outreach,” she said. “But I don’t think our recruitment efforts would do much good were there not already an awareness in our society about the importance of protecting the environment. People are a lot more aware and educated than they were 33 years ago. They want to do good, and they’re looking for ways to help.”

 

The problem of polluted shorelines and waterways is a serious one. According to the Ocean Conservancy, bits of plastic have been found inside 62 percent of all sea birds and 100 percent of sea turtle species.

 

“The plastic and styrofoam items that people toss break down into smaller pieces, and then the animals mistake those little pieces for food,” Sandifur said. “It’s awful. There’s so much of that stuff, and it’s really hard to pick up.”

 

During Coastal Cleanup Day, the items collected at each site are counted and recorded. To facilitate the count, the Ocean Conservancy developed the Clean Swell app, which allows volunteers to photograph and catalog each item they collect. The information is then added to a database that provides a big-picture view of the global problem of polluted oceans and waterways.

 

The Ocean Conservancy hopes the database can be used to inspire solutions and even influence action at a government level. A similar app, Litterati, allows users to add keywords such as brand names. The app’s creators hope this info can then be used to inspire sustainable practices in the corporate and industrial communities.


 

What’s in the bag?

 

This year, 842 food wrappers and to-go containers were collected at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park alone, along with 1,026 larger plastic and metal items, 210 plastic shopping bags, 285 cigarette butts and 714 plastic straws and lids.

 

Straws are among the 10 most-found items at cleanups, according to the Ocean Conservancy, whose volunteers have collected more than a half-million straws to date. Last year, volunteers found a sofa, a hair-curling iron and a Tamagotchi (a handheld electronic game). Among this year’s unusual items were some Dracula fangs, an old Christmas wreath, a couple of golf balls and some spent fireworks.

 

How do these items end up here? Sandifur said the reason is plain and simple—carelessness.

 

“The littering happens both on land and water,” she said. “I don’t think littering is always necessarily as conscious of an act as tossing something on the ground or into the water. If you’re not being conscientious and you accidently leave trash behind or it blows away, that’s littering too.”

 

At the East Creek Slough, 150 bags of trash were collected on September 16, while 75 bags were collected at Middle Harbor Shoreline Park. “That’s a lot of trash,” Sandifur said. “But this isn’t about pointing fingers or making people feel bad. The goal is to raise awareness of the problem, and to educate people about how harmful these seemingly harmless things are when they enter the environment, so that they are more careful in the future.”