Keep SC Beaches Beautiful

Summer 2009 is almost here, and everyone knows what that means: people from all over the world will be stampeding to the beaches in Santa Cruz to enjoy some of the most beautiful coastal scenery in California. There is no feeling quite like the one you get when you are standing on the cliffs at Seabright Beach, looking down at the pristine white sands, beautiful people and deep greenish-blue of the ocean. 

What you probably don’t notice is the amount of trash piling up beneath the blankets and umbrellas. One of the largest threats to the health of our beaches is marine debris, which is trash that ends up in the sea either from land-based or ocean-based sources. In the past 50 years this problem has worsened due to the increased use of convenient plastic containers rather than reusable ones. Cigarette butts, plastic and glass bottles, aluminum cans and every other forgotten piece of trash left on the beaches of Santa Cruz every day by the throngs of visitors diminishes the landscape’s postcard perfection.   

We are not the only ones who have to deal with the consequences of marine debris. Every year, an estimated 100,000 birds, sea turtles, dolphins, whales, seals and other animals will ingest plastic debris or become entangled in it. Everything from lighters to small toys has been found in animals washed up on the beach, who were just trying to eat and survive. 

Plastic material is mainly responsible for the ongoing massacre of marine animals, forever floating around brightly-colored and appealing to hungry creatures. Americans each use about 200 pounds of plastic every year, and that number is predicted to become 300 by the end of the decade. With our reckless use of this long-lived petroleum product, it’s no wonder that the environment is suffering. 

By now, many people have heard of the horrifying North Pacific Gyre trash heap in all its plastic splendor: a mass of trash the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, containing an estimated 3.5 million tons of trash. There is not a better visual example of the consequences of our careless use of plastics than the garbage patch. 

The amount of trash on Santa Cruz beaches is staggering, but there are many dedicated locals who don’t mind cleaning up the mess. The annual International Coastal Cleanup Day happens every summer at beaches all over the world. Last year, over 3,000 volunteers cleaned up 10,200 pounds of trash off of the beaches in Santa Cruz County alone. Worldwide, people from 104 different countries picked up 6.8 million pounds of trash from their beaches, rivers and streams. 

The good news is that it’s not too late to diminish our impact on our coastal environment. The main action that we should all take is simply to use fewer plastic containers. Be aware of your surroundings on the beach, keep track of the trash that you end up with and make sure that you pack it up when you leave. If you smoke, don’t throw your cigarette butt away in the sand. These simple actions could save thousands of marine animals’ lives and keep the beaches in Santa Cruz looking beautiful. 

There are several organizations in Santa Cruz dedicated to keeping the beaches clean and looking for volunteers to help. Save our Shores has been organizing coastal clean-ups in communities of California for the past 30 years. Pack Your Trash is another agency promoting the health of the coastline with their anti-littering campaigns, and is located on Pleasure Point.

So when you trip down to the beach this summer, just remember to leave it how you found it — you’re not the only one enjoying the sun, sand and surf.


By Kathleen Mullen-Ley 
Fourth-year environmental studies major


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