SMC community commits to coastal clean-up

Santa Monica College, in collaboration with the Black Surfers Collective, hosted one of the over fifty statewide beach cleanup sites for Coastal Clean Up Day, the largest volunteer day on the planet. 675 registered volunteers, excluding the 50 or so SMC students from Eco-action, the Marine Biology Club, Plastic Free SMC, and the SMC Bike Club participated in the effort to combat marine waste and collected over 200 pounds of trash. The event was organized by Heal The Bay, a Southern California non-profit environmental organization in pursuit of keeping coastal waters clean. The event is not just about cleaning the beach, but is also about making people aware of the effects of their trash on the environment in general. “Plastic pollution is very pervasive all through our environment and urban communities, so it’s really important that we get together,” says Genevieve Bertone, Director of the Center for Environmental Urban Studies and one of the event organizers.

Most of this pollution consists of styrofoam and cigarette butts, minuscule items that seem to have little impact, but have much larger consequences than just a dirty beach. “All the trash that breaks down into smaller pieces gets mistaken by wildlife as food, and they are not able to process it at all,” says Professor Alexandra Tower, an Eco-Action moderator. “It gets stuck in their digestive system and ultimately they will not be hungry anymore,” which results in them starving to death. “We lose about one million birds a year to our marine debris, and about 100,000 marine animals every year,” says Tower.

The objective of the event, and why it happens in September, is to clean the beach before the fall rains flush storm drains’ contents into the ocean. In addition, the marine animals that humans consume, like tuna and salmon for instance, are part of the wildlife that mistake trash for food.”If you’re not happy about saving wildlife, tune in because it’s about saving your health and the health of future generations,” says Tower. As Cheyenne Morrill, who represents SMC Club Grow and Eco-Action at the event puts it, “The small stuff matters.”

Outside the annual Coastal Clean Up Day, Heal the Bay hosts a monthly beach clean up called “Nothin’ But Sand”, one of which the Eco-Action Club hosts every semester, in addition to providing opportunities for volunteers to join a Storm Response Team, which cleans beaches after rainfall, or Adopt-A-Beach to keep it clean three times a year.

Though the morning remained overcast and gloomy, between the reggae, the sound of elementary-school aged children laughing and playing, and a prevalent sense of community, the mood was lighter than the sky above suggested. Besides registration and supply tables and buckets for collecting trash, it looks like another day at the beach.

As 11:30 a.m. approached, the time clean up registration closes, crowds died down and students were seen sitting in the sand chatting, a change from the hectic nature of last year’s effort which had a turnout of 700 but was located at the pier. “It’s gone a lot smoother,” says Tower. “I see a lot of people sitting around which is kinda nice.”

On the community aspect of the event, Bertone says, “You come out here and you see all these people that care and all these people that want to make a difference and they’re not necessarily environmentalists.” Looking onto the beach, one notices the large amount of children participating in the clean up effort. Halie Willis, treasurer of Eco-Action and member of SMC Cheer, says of the large turnout after assisting a family of three with supplies, “You gotta protect the things that you love. If we come together we can make a big impact.”

For Greg Rachel of the Black Surfers Collective, a small organization of Los Angeles-based surfers, “It’s a day where we can partner with different organizations and bring a lot of people on to the beach.” This is the second year SMC has partnered with the collective, which teaches young people to surf and has strong ties to Heal The Bay as well as The California Coastal Commission.

Rachel also feels it’s important that an event like this tells people that they can do something for once instead of evoking a sense of hopelessness about the future. “We are able to make a difference in hundreds of people’s minds about what they can accomplish,” she says.

The annual event, with its ability to empower and establish community, goes to show that, according to Tower, “in the end we’re all connected and it’s super important for us to be respectful and conserve.” As questions about the environment continue to dominate social discussions and even international forums, the quest for a clean Earth continues right here by our shores.

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