By Shawn Raymundo, C. Jayden Smith and Breeana Greenberg
Groups of area teens and families banded together for a morning of environmental stewardship along local beaches and waterways Saturday, Sept. 23, participating in a statewide event to clean up trash and debris before more rubbish ends up in the oceans.
As part of the annual California Coastal Cleanup Day, South County residents worked together to gather trash from various beaches and creeks around Dana Point, San Clemente and San Juan Capistrano.
With the help of the city’s Youth Advisory Board and the town’s Rotary Club, Noreen Swiontek, the Environmental Programs Analyst for the City of San Juan Capistrano, assisted the dozens of volunteers at Descanso Park, where Trabuco Creek and San Juan Creek merge.
“We are coming here, the creeks, where (they) join,” Swiontek said. “A lot of water today, but a lot of odd things coming up. We have a very good turnout this year, so everybody’s happy and having a good time and helping clean up the environment.”
Some of those strange items that participants removed from the creeks included a mattress, a cart, tables and blankets—all very waterlogged, Swiontek noted.
Asked how some of these items end up in either creeks, Swiontek acknowledged she was unsure.
“That’s a good question. I don’t know if there’s been a study to trace it to the end, but yeah, I don’t know how all this gets in here,” she said. “But the more we get out, the less goes into our waterways and everything.”
Swiontek called Coastal Cleanup Day a “huge benefit” to the environment and an important community event that’s meant to “preserve the environment, keep the trash and everything out of the ocean, out of our creeks, (and) keep everything clean.
It also “helps reduce waste and gets everybody involved to understand and be conscious, (have an) awareness of the things going on,” Swiontek added.
Over in San Clemente, between the Municipal Pier and T-Street, Susan Ambrose, a member of the City of San Clemente’s Coastal Advisory Committee, helped operate the tables where volunteers checked in.
Ambrose on Saturday spoke about the community’s desire to keep the town clean and protect local natural resources. She also mentioned the importance of residents gathering and being part of a solution, emphasizing the number of people who pre-registered for the event.
“We’re really excited about the turnout,” she said.
Additionally, Ambrose talked about the many students who earned community service hours for their work, the families who participated, and how they “papered” Avenida Del Mar and neighborhoods with information to spread the word.
“We wanted to be sure that we marketed this as broadly as we could,” she added.
And up the coastline, Dana Point’s environmental nonprofit Stand Up to Trash hosted a beach cleanup at Baby Beach and the Ocean Institute, which saw 680 volunteers.
Stand Up to Trash founder and President Vicki Patterson said she’s seen an increase in attendance over the years, particularly by families participating in the monthly beach cleanups.
“I just love seeing the kids and the families. I applaud the parents that bring the kids down, whether it be a Saturday or Sunday and give back to the community” Patterson said.
Patterson added that the environmental nonprofit also engages kids through its “education wheel.” Kids can earn a prize if they answer questions from the wheel.
“I always say, we’re going to stump these kids with this, but kids are really smart,” Patterson said. “They really know their stuff that’s going on with the environment and I think it’s so wonderful that we’re all learning about this and that they have already an idea of what’s going on and the impact that we can make.”
Stand Up to Trash also offers attendees the opportunity to pick up trash out on the water through its partnership with Westwind Sailing. Those interested in clearing trash from the Dana Point Harbor can take out a kayak or paddle board at no charge during the cleanups.
“It’s a nice eye opener for people because (with) the naked eye, you look out and you just see this blue, beautiful ocean and you don’t see the clear plastic film until you’re right on top of it,” Patterson said.
Patterson added that she notices a lot of people commenting during cleanups that the local beaches are very clean or they didn’t see a lot of trash. However, Patterson noted that while it feels good to pick up trash and feel like you’re doing your part, the point of the beach cleanup is to “raise awareness of how much trash there is in the environment.”
“You don’t have to go to a beach cleanup,” Patterson said, “you can just help right outside your door.”