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Walking along beaches and dunes, they loaded plastic buckets and shopping bags with scores of cigarette butts and candy wrappers but also more unusual items: a cellphone cover, a golf ball, a red and blue dog toy.

Among the estimated 350 volunteers cleaning up debris Saturday along the Sonoma Coast were the Carpenter family of Occidental.

“It’s like a treasure hunt,” Joe Carpenter explained of his clan’s dedication, shortly before dumping a heap of sand from his tennis shoe in the parking lot at North Salmon Creek Beach.

His daughters, Mia, a fourth-grader, and Sofia, a first-grader, showed a lone flip-flop they had collected to Allie Johnston, a cleanup leader and a kindergarten teacher at the children’s Harmony/Salmon Creek School in Occidental.

The family took part Saturday in the 34th annual Coastal Cleanup Day.

The statewide event is billed as California’s largest volunteer event, with 82,000 volunteers last year packing off 1.2 million pounds of trash and recycled goods from beaches, lakes and inland waterways.

Organizers said the day offers volunteers a chance to do something concrete to clean up a part of their world, to keep debris out of the ocean and to help protect wildlife.

“This is how you start,” said Eileen Jang, a Bodega resident who was helping oversee the volunteers at Doran Beach.

On Saturday Jang’s home sat in sunshine, but a layer of clouds hung over Bodega Bay and extended about a mile inland. A stiff breeze kept many of the volunteers bundled in hats, coats and gloves.

The Sonoma Coast volunteers spread out to 18 locations from the Gualala River mouth in the north to the Estero Americano in the south. Another 350 volun­teers were expected to take part with inland cleanup efforts along the Russian River, the Petaluma River, Santa Rosa Creek, Lake Sonoma and Sonoma Valley.

Despite the wind and clouds at the coast, many said they were glad they took part.

Sandi Kasmier of Bodega Bay noted that her daughter and three grandchildren from Kenwood found themselves caught up in the treasure-hunt element of looking for trash among the dunes and ice plants at Doran Beach.

“They all enjoyed it more than they thought they would,” she said.

A few minutes earlier, Braulio Medina of Santa Rosa and daughters Kaydence, 12, and Trinity, 9, talked about what had impressed them after picking up debris that included a foam cup, candy wrappers and dog toy.

“People don’t care about the Earth,” said Kaydence, who was volunteering along with her chapter of the faith-based group American Heritage Girls.

At North Salmon Creek, Johnston, the Occidental kindergarten teacher and fifth-grade teacher Susan McGovern said they wanted their students to make connections between their lives and that of the coast and ocean.

“The creek that runs past our school empties out at this beach,” said Johnston.

Cea Higgins, executive director of Coastwalk, the group that oversaw the county volunteers, said the annual coastal cleanup has a huge international component and amounts to “the largest citizen science event in the world.”

The volunteers’ buckets are weighed and each group fills out a survey form tallying up the type and number of trash items collected. The results can help educate policy makers about the worst items littering beaches and waterways.

For example, Higgins said, the group will be able to measure whether volunteers this year find fewer plastic carryout bags, a result she expected now that such bags have been prohibited in stores around the state.

Darris Nelson, a leader working with Jang at Doran Beach, said these days more people seem to avoid littering and to pick it up when they come across it at the coast.

A Bodega Bay resident, Nelson said she walks Doran Beach about five days a week, always bringing along a bag into which she places any garbage she finds.

“The amount of trash has dropped dramatically this year,” she said.

Maria Carpenter predicted the cleanup day will become “a new family tradition” for her husband, Joe, and their daughters.

“This is a little way to make a difference,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at 707-521-5285 or robert.digitale@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @rdigit.

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