SM BEACH — While 20 minutes is hardly enough time to save the world, it’s all Sara Bayles needs to make a difference in her community.
The aspiring fiction writer and former special effects makeup artist is more than 60 days deep in her quest to keep Santa Monica State Beach clean, spending 20 minutes over 365 non-consecutive days picking up cigarette butts, plastic wrappers and even hypodermic needles.
Bayles wants to see how many pounds of trash she can collect, weighing and separating recyclables while posting her findings on her blog, www.thedailyocean.blogspot.com. The experiment began in March.
“When I started, it was just a way for me to feel a little bit better even though I knew that one person couldn’t possibly keep all the trash off the beach,” said Bayles, whose husband is a marine biology professor at Santa Monica College. “It felt good removing lighters from the sand so birds wouldn’t eat them. I felt a little more hopeful. It was an exercise for my own mental health and then I thought, why not keep a tally.”
Bayles, whose first novel “Calliope and the Heart of the Sea” blends fantasy with ocean conservation, said she has collected more than 300 pounds of trash, or around 5.8 pounds per day. She uses bags from old loafs of bread and gardening gloves on her outings, which are typically around sunset. She is focusing her efforts on a stretch of beach between life guard towers 26 and 27 at the end of Ocean Park Boulevard, a popular spot for visitors. Her blog includes observations as well as pictures of debris and more uplifting sights such as a young girl body boarding as the sun goes down.
Bayles’ love of the ocean can be traced back to her childhood. She grew up along the coast of Connecticut and in New Jersey, a child of the 1970s who remembers being told that she could no longer drink tap water because of concerns about the quality.
“I’ve just always been sort of conscious of the environment,” said Bayles, who sports a sea turtle necklace and tattoos. “I’ve always had a natural love of the ocean. I can’t explain it. I feel very at home there. There is a peace and a calm that comes over me. I’ve never left the beach feeling worse and I just try and translate that feeling to people through the blog and with this project.”
It is her hope that others will become inspired and start their own beach cleanup project.
“Everybody has 20 minutes,” Bayles said.
So far, one follower has hopped on the bandwagon. A reader in Washington, D.C. named Beverly, who is working on a Web site dedicated to saving places people love, has decided to start her own beach cleanup project when she goes on vacation in Newport, R.I. She contacted Surfrider Rhode Island and found six beaches in the area. She plans to visit a different one each day, spending 20 minutes picking up trash, photographing the beach and reflecting on the beauty of the ocean.
“It’s been great to meet a fellow beach lover,” said Beverly, who did not want to give her last name. “Surfrider Rhode Island offered to provide bags, gloves and water — which was really generous. I’m hoping to connect with them while I’m there.
“I’ve always loved the beach and the ocean anywhere I go,” she added. “There’s nothing better than a walk on the beach — the wind, the sand, the water, finding shells and stones. You can do a lot of thinking at the beach, it’s relaxing and it’s really universal. Wherever you go in the world, people love the beach and the water.”
Apparently not everyone. On a recent outing, Bayles and her husband saw a family get up from the sand and walk away from the leftovers of an entire dinner, disposable plates and all. The family must have assumed someone was going to clean up after them or they just didn’t care. Bayles feels ignorance plays a role as does laziness.
“Some people just don’t understand and connect the dots that what they are doing at the beach is impacting the environment,” Bayles said. “Part of me feels that is hard to believe because there is so much information out there about sustainability, but it just hasn’t filtered through to some people.”
Perhaps the blog can help change that.