A local nonprofit is seeking volunteers for its elite beach cleanup strike teams.
Surfrider Foundation USA focuses on water quality, beach access, and beach and surf spot preservation while sustaining marine and coastal ecosystems. Its local chapter, Surfrider Foundation San Diego, has been active recently in forming and utilizing beach cleanup strike teams at Sunset Cliffs and elsewhere along San Diego’s 70-mile coastline.
“We’re pretty volunteer-powered,” said Mitch Silverstein, Surfrider San Diego chapter manager, about those beach strike teams. He added they are “something new, a program we’re just launching for our chapter.”
Silverstein said the new program was initiated because “we lost the ability to do public beach cleanups because of COVID’s legal and health and safety protocols. So we started throwing ideas at the wall to see what sticks.”
The end result was the creation of limited-number, carefully supervised beach strike cleanup teams. Operating under strict health and safety protocols, teams are limited to 30 volunteers or less and wear face masks and gloves while physically distancing at least six feet at all times. Volunteers avoid touching any public surfaces (handrails, benches). Participants are also required to sign a liability waiver, with those under age 18 required to get signatures from their parents/legal guardians.
Silverstein said beach strike teams are merely an extension of his group’s ongoing environmental mission.
“For us, beach cleanups have always been the gateway for the general public to get more involved in coastal issues in their community,” Silverstein said. And beach cleanups are doubly important for battling pollution because of their location, noted Silverstein.
“Any pollution, trash, plastic or other that’s on the ground, it’s all part of the storm drainage system that leads to the ocean sooner or later,” he said. “Which is why we’ve got these community-activated strike teams willing to volunteer to clean our local beaches.”
Beach cleanups typically take just two hours, mostly on weekends, to thoroughly scour a stretch of beach. Each team is supplied with a clean-up kit that includes gloves, a reusable bag or bucket for trash, and a reacher/grabber for picking up waste and to keep volunteers from having to bend over.
The cleanups are also useful in compiling data on beach waste.
“We have an app, a marine debris tracker,” noted Silverstein. “It helps us ascertain the big problems, the big cause of beach and ocean pollution.”
Noting the best way to clean the coast is “to prevent beaches from getting trashed in the first place,” Silverstein talked about the nature of the waste that turns up.
“The worst offender is single-use plastic pollution and Styrofoam from take-out, all the products we’ve come to rely on as a society, which we make to use once,” he said. “That’s 80% of what we find at all our beach cleanups.”
The Surfrider leader said Styrofoam is especially problematic because it’s non-biodegradable.
“It just keeps breaking down into smaller and smaller pieces over time,” he said adding it’s still washing up on beaches. “Plastic and Styrofoam pollution are skyrocketing now because of the higher percentage of take-out restaurants have had to rely on during COVID over the last year,” Silverstein said.
This brings up another objective of Surfrider’s mission: education.
“We strive to make the public literate about plastic pollution issues, and to encourage people to prevent beach pollution by adopting a more reusable lifestyle, not relying on single-use plastics, which create waste and trash the ocean and beach,” Silverstein concluded.