SM BEACH — When resident Sara Bayles began her quest to keep Santa Monica State Beach clean by spending 20 minutes a day for 365 non-consecutive days picking up trash found in the sand, she had no idea it would inspire others to do the same.
As she reaches the culmination of her three-year project this Saturday, Bayles is encouraged by the e-mails she’s received from folks from as far away as Australia who have been inspired by her to keep the cleanup going in their own communities.
“That’s a cool development that I didn’t expect,” said Bayles, who documents her journey on her blog, The Daily Ocean. “I feel so honored that people are inspired by what I’ve done. It’s so simple. Just spend 20 minutes of your time cleaning the beach, post some photographs. I kept the model simple so people feel like they can do it, too.”
This Saturday, at 3 p.m. Bayles will be at Lifeguard Tower 26 at the end of Ocean Park Boulevard for the final cleanup. So far she has collected over 1,300 pounds of cigarette butts, plastic wrappers and even hypodermic needles — all debris that would have found its way into the ocean and possibly the stomachs of sea turtles and other marine life. She is encouraging as many people as she can to grab some gloves, old bread bags or paper bags and join her.
“When I think about how many pounds I have collected just myself it’s crazy,” said Bayles, a former special effects makeup artist who now dedicates much of her time to promoting her blog and spreading awareness about the dangers of marine debris. She’s writing a book about the experience and plans to visit schools to talk with students about the importance of recycling and cleaning up after themselves.
“Santa Monica takes really good care of our beach, but there are 15 million or so people in the greater Los Angeles area so the coastline will feel the effects of such a large metropolis no matter how many times we rake [the beach] or do cleanups. It comes down to a total lifestyle change.”
Bayles has always been conscious of how her actions impacted the environment having grown up along the coast of Connecticut and New Jersey. She feels at home in and on the water, which explains why she went with her husband, a biology professor at Santa Monica College, on a journey to the South Pacific Ocean to study the impacts of plastics on the environment. That mission — part of the 5 Gyres Institute expedition — helped reinforce her belief that more needs to be done to protect the environment.
“We were floating along in very pristine, blue Pacific water and then an odd barrel or laundry basket would appear. It was very surreal,” she said. “Most of what we saw came from land. After that I felt really inspired to do what I can to clean this place up. The best place to start is on the coastline.”
One doesn’t have to go to the extreme Bayles has. She recommends taking baby steps.
“Take it out of the sand, then take it out of my life,” she said. “It can be as easy as saying, ‘Please hold the [plastic] straw.’ It may sound like a funny example, but it all adds up.”
Bayles recommends using reusable bags as much as possible (the City Council has banned single-use plastic bags within Santa Monica); purchasing items that are not packaged in plastic, such as containers made from glass or aluminum; and recycling as much as possible.
The problem with plastic is that it breaks down and at the same time absorbs contaminants like DDT and other pesticides. Marine animals eat the particles and absorb the pollutants, which could then impact the rest of the food chain. Scientists are beginning to study the impacts and whether or not chemicals are entering human bodies when people eat seafood.
Many Santa Monicans are already helping to keep the beaches clean and may not realize it. Over two-thirds of voters in 2006 approved the Clean Beaches and Ocean Parcel Tax to fund storm-water diversion projects that keep pollutants and debris from reaching the Santa Monica Bay.
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is currently asking residents if they would be willing to pay another tax to keep beaches clean through a mail-only ballot this spring. If approved the tax would come out to roughly $54 for the average homeowner. About 90 percent of parcel owners would likely pay less than $100, though large commercial property owners could pay thousands of dollars.
Before the proposal can advance, the county will give residents until Jan. 15 to file an objection.
No matter what property owners decide, Bayles will continue to keep fighting for improved water quality.
“There’s no way I can stop,” she said. “There’s definitely more to come.”