Featured Image: When Vicki Patterson, a lifelong Dana Point resident, posted pictures on social media of all the trash she had collected from the harbor, she had neighbors reaching out to get involved with her nonprofit, Stand Up to Trash. Photo: Courtesy of Vicki Patterson
By Breeana Greenberg
Vicki Patterson, a lifelong Dana Point resident, has always felt a sense of responsibility to be a good steward of her environment. Taking that stewardship a step further, she’s brought awareness and education to the environment through her nonprofit, Stand Up to Trash.
Patterson started Stand Up to Trash in August 2020 after her paddleboarding trips in the Dana Point Harbor brought awareness to the scale of marine pollution.
“It’s been in my blood since I was born,” Patterson said. “The harbor and Killer Dana were our playground. My mom used to take us to PMMC (Pacific Marine Mammal Center) to learn about the animals there and how they were being affected by the fishing line and different things in the ocean.”
At the Pacific Marine Mammal Center, Patterson became aware of the environment and how her actions affect the world around her. Later in life, when she began paddleboarding, she saw the negative impact of plastic pollution in local waterways firsthand.
“I started paddleboarding probably about 10 years ago,” Patterson said. “There was just so much trash, I would tell my friends ‘Just go’; I can’t just not pick up trash, balloons, and all kind of pieces of plastic out there.”
Patterson’s friends had given her the nickname of “whale whisperer,” she said, so she felt she had an obligation to take care of them.
“They’re blessing us with their presence and their beauty and how majestic they are; it was something that I felt that I could give back,” Patterson said.
When she posted pictures on social media of all the trash she had collected, Patterson had more and more people reaching out to get involved. She hosted the nonprofit’s inaugural beach cleanup in November 2020.
Over the past two years, Stand Up to Trash has held monthly beach cleanups and developed deep relationships in the community.
“The partnerships we’ve created in the last year, everybody just opens their heart, and it just feels like you’re a part of something,” Patterson said.
Starting the nonprofit during the pandemic, she said she’s had people come to her to tell her that the local cleanups have given them a sense of community at a time when many felt isolated.
Stand Up to Trash’s mission is to “protect and conserve our ocean by raising awareness of the negative effects caused by plastic pollution through environmental education for future generations.”
The monthly cleanups help to raise awareness to the scale of plastic pollution, as attendees see firsthand the negative impact on the local harbor.
“I was realizing when we were having the beach cleanups, people didn’t realize how much trash there was until they started to commit to two hours of picking up trash,” Patterson said.
“Part of our mission statement is to raise awareness. We’re, like, ‘OK, check,’ and the second part is the education through environmental education,” Patterson added. “So, we started something called Lunch and Learn.”
Once a month, Stand Up to Trash holds a beach cleanup focused on a different environmental topic of the month.
“Whether it be Earth Day or World Oceans Day, this day we’re focusing on the Mother’s Day aspect, so we’re calling it Ocean Mamas,” Patterson said, referring to the upcoming Lunch and Learn on Saturday, May 21.
This month, Dennis Kelly, professor emeritus of the Marine Science Department at Orange Coast College, will talk about his research of bottlenose dolphins. As the director of the coastal dolphin survey project, he has seen the impacts of trash on marine life, Patterson said.
“He’s going to be talking about what he has seen throughout the 40 years; in the ocean, how much trash has been collecting over the last 40 years, what he is seeing differently, and how it’s affecting their behaviors, their gestation, everything to do with the dolphins,” Patterson said.
Last month, Stand Up to Trash had 440 attendees come to the Lunch and Learn at the Ocean Institute wharf, Patterson said.
Stand Up to Trash has added a new “spin the wheel” activity in which attendees can spin a question wheel, and if you answer the question correctly, you win a prize.
Stand Up to Trash’s next Beach Cleanup and Lunch and Learn on Saturday is scheduled from 9-11 a.m. Kelly’s talk will take place at 10:30 a.m.
To sign up for the upcoming event, head to standuptotrash.com.
Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org