Day of Service Activity: Combing the Beach for Trash


There’s nothing more serene than walking the beach with your children on a lovely day, picking up shells and digging holes in the sand. The flip side of the coin (or sand dollar in this case) is combing the shore for trash, something I did with another mom and three 4th graders as part of a school community service project.

It is downright shocking so many visitors to Ocean Beach in San Francisco in the year 2009 litter without a conscience, discarding their plastic ice coffee drink cups and paper napkins in the spot where they had spread their blankets to take in the natural beauty. They are leaving behind a carbon footprint in the sand.

As it turns out, the grassroots non-profit organization Surfrider Foundation regularly recruits volunteers for beach cleanups at Ocean Beach and elsewhere, including today, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. President-Elect Barack Obama and our future First Lady Michelle Obama have called for a national day of service. The organization’s San Francisco chapter of 1,200 members installed bio-bag dispensers in several locations of Ocean Beach last year to remind beach-goers to remove their dog waste and other trash.

Founded in 1984 by a handful of visionary surfers in Malibu, California, the Surfrider Foundation now maintains over 50,000 members and 80 chapters worldwide. Those members include surfers, environmentalists and fishermen looking to make a difference. It can be challenging at locations like Ocean Beach with 5 miles of shoreline and as many as 10,000 visitors daily on weekends.

That’s why early education is a big part of the process. The watch-wave group sponsors programs like Repect the Beach (RTB) to teach children coastal ecology through field trips, classroom lectures, videos and hand-on projects, conveying ocean environmentalism from the surfer’s perspective.

That perspective is clear in the organization’s Beach Manifesto, which addresses water quality and beach erosion, in addition to the need for cities with public beaches to provide adequate restrooms (Ocean Beach is clearly lacking this), and other amenities. The goal is to have these principles adopted by all levels of government.

Surfrider Beach Manifesto

  • Beach access would be free and uninterrupted. You could get to the beach to check the surf or stick your toes in the sand at least every half-mile in urban areas. There would be adequate parking, restrooms, and other amenities. Money would be budgeted for the acquisition of coastal open space.
  • You could surf or swim after it rains without the fear of getting sick, or at least know where it’s safe because a notice would be posted if the water quality were bad. You would know the locations of storm drains and sewer outfalls.
  • Sand would flow freely to form surf breaks and beaches, and not be captured by dams, blocked by groins, or walled up behind seawalls. People would live far enough away from the shoreline that beach erosion would not be a problem. Beaches would be where and what they were naturally meant to be. As a result, we would not need to rely on beach fill and we would not need shoreline structures. It would be widely appreciated that beach ecology is as important as the ecology of the oceans. Sandy beaches would be recognized as diverse and productive systems, which serve as a critical link between marine and terrestrial environments.
  • There would be no net loss of surfing areas, and all coastal recreation opportunities would be protected.
  • Advances in technology would be used to make information readily available to the public, government officials, and scientists alike. Information would be presented in a way that is easily understood. All of us, not just a select few, would be able to participate in the decision-making process regarding our precious coastal resources.
  • Beach access sites would be inventoried, surf zone water quality monitored, and beach erosion measured. Keeping track of these things would help to ensure that our Mother Ocean’s bounty is preserved for future generations.

Find out how to host or volunteer for a beach clean-up in your area. True, it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

Image: ercwttmn

Luanne Bradley

Luanne Sanders Bradley is the West coast Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in San Francisco, California.