California Coastal Cleanup Day coming Saturday, needs volunteers in Sonoma County

Sebastopol Independent Charter's Elah Shaw, 11, picks up a piece of plastic at Doran Beach in Bodega Bay picking up trash during the Coastal Cleanup Day in 2012. (PD FILE)


Do you find yourself dismayed or even tormented by images of seabirds, marine mammals, fish and other sealife with their guts full of plastic and other trash?

Here’s your chance to help, and it only takes a few hours.

Saturday marks the 33rd annual California Coastal Cleanup Day, an opportunity to rise to the defense of the ocean and its inhabitants by removing litter from local beaches and watersheds before winter rains and storm surges can sweep it out to sea.

Dozens of sites around the North Coast, both inland and at the ocean’s edge, are among more than 870 locations chosen statewide for volunteer cleanup crews to go to work on Saturday.

Locally, they include state and county beaches along the Sonoma Coast, from Jenner to Bodega Bay, as well as public beaches up and down the Mendocino Coast.

But in growing recognition of the volume of discarded litter that washes coastward from rivers and streams, dozens of inland cleanups are planned, as well. Targeted waterways include the Russian River from Ukiah to Monte Rio, the Petaluma River, Santa Rosa Creek, the Laguna de Santa Rosa and several Sonoma-area parks and preserves.

“Ideally, this is the day everybody gives back to clean waterways,” Russian Riverkeeper Executive Director Don McEnhill said.

Various agencies and volunteer captains host the different cleanup sites under the local leadership of California Coastwalk and the Mendocino Land Trust, among many others.

All are part of an effort that started on the West Coast in 1985 and has spread internationally, as the ubiquity of human trash and its impact on marine wildlife and habitats have become clear.

There are fishing lines, traps and other gear that entangle sealife, cargo and litter that somehow end up over the side of container ships and vessels, and waste from cruise ships.

But at least 80 percent of the plastics and other marine debris found in the oceans come from land-based sources — trash washed into storm drains from the street or just left on the side of a creek trail, for instance, experts say.

McEnhill, who spends a great deal of time on the Russian River as leader of an advocacy and stewardship group, said the view of the shoreline in the wake of the Labor Day weekend and an extended period of triple-digit temperatures has been extraordinary, both at public beaches and unauthorized sites, particularly around Cloverdale and up toward Hopland.

“The amount of trash is just astounding,” he said.

Statewide, cigarette butts and filters are extremely abundant among the items picked up and logged on past Coastal Cleanup Days.

Food wrappers and containers, caps and lids, paper and plastic bags, cups, plates, utensils and straws — all among the Top 10, according to the California Coastal Commission.

But since the 1985 debut of Coastal Cleanup Day, at least 12 million volunteers have removed 229 million pounds of trash. In California, last year’s effort drew 60,000 participants who collected as many as 700,000 pounds of garbage and recyclable materials.

In Sonoma County, the 2016 haul was more than 2,500 pounds, involving nearly 600 volunteers. More than 350 volunteers in Mendocino County collected about 3,500 pounds of trash, the Mendocino Land Trust said.

“Coastal Cleanup Day provides the public with a hands-on understanding of the impact trash, plastics and toxins have on our beautiful coastline, waterways and ecosystems,” said Una Glass, recently retired executive director emeritus of Coastwalk California, a key local organizer.

“This leads, especially among the young, to taking personal responsibility for actions when enjoying the outdoors.”

Most cleanups run from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday. Pre-registration is preferred so organizers know where volunteers are still needed.

McEnhill said being part of the solution is deeply satisfying.

”There’s nothing like sitting there at the end of the day Saturday and seeing all those pictures of full bags and dumpsters, and knowing it won’t be on the river anymore,” he said.