Will Clean Coasts, For Free

Thousands of volunteers will sweep out our waterways this weekend for California Coastal Cleanup Day.

Volunteers stationed near the Golden Gate Bridge contribute to the 2016 California Coastal Cleanup Day (Photo courtesy of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy)

Lately, San Franciscans have been able to enjoy warm weather along the shoreline like the rest of California usually does, and this weekend, volunteers will be further beautifying it.

The 33rd annual California Coastal Cleanup Day has about 900 sites set for cleaning on Saturday — and they can use it. Beaches generally get a lot of cleaning attention, but creeks, rivers, streams and lakes also have ecosystems in need of protection, conservation groups maintain.

“Coastal Cleanup Day is a really big push, but everyone needs to have a personal responsibility,” San Francisco Public Works Director Mohammed Nuru tells SF Weekly. “We depend on people and we hope that people put items like beer cans in the right place.”

San Francisco collected nearly 14,000 pounds of debris at last year’s cleanup, with the help of 1,770 volunteers. Statewide, around 59,000 volunteers collected 710,781 pounds of trash total in 2016.

Marin, San Mateo County, Pacifica and San Francisco are part of the same Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy effort, which has 22 cleanup sites listed in San Francisco alone. Most sites not along the beach are in the Bayview, like Candlestick Point.

The western half of the city typically gets more volunteers than the east, GGNPC spokesperson Veda Banerjee said, but they estimate that almost 80 percent of the trash they collect from shorelines comes from inland sources, such as plastic wrapping blown by the wind.

Public Works has about 350 people cleaning the city at all hours everyday, Nuru said, but the density — especially downtown — poses a challenge. Signs, trash cans and cigarette receptacles help, as do reusable bags, reduced plastic packaging, and proper waste disposal.

“We are a windy city,” Nuru said. “The sooner we get [trash], the cleaner we keep our shorelines.”

The most common trash items are cigarettes and filters. Nearly 7 million have been collected during the Coastal Commission’s 25-year count. Food wrappers or containers, lids, or caps and bags make up the next most common items.

The Parks Conservancy collected 28,870 cigarette butts, 626 metal bottle caps, 581 straws, and 206 plastic bottles during last year’s coastal cleanup. Volunteers also found a backpack filled with live crabs in Half Moon Bay, and a suitcase with live fish in San Diego, Coastal Commission Marine Debris Program Manager Eben Schwartz says.

When things like tires, mattresses and shopping carts end up in the water, Public Works has to get on a boat and carefully pull it out without disrupting natural patterns, Nuru says. Mission Creek, for example, has heron breeding areas.

“If we don’t get out there to clean it up, most of that trash will end up washing into the ocean where it can cause serious harm, even death, for countless animals, including thousands of marine mammals in the North Pacific alone,” Schwartz says. “This is the one time each year that we ask all Californians, no matter where they may live, to join with their community members and help us protect our coast and ocean.”

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