Santa Monica Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (left), Mayor Richard Bloom and actress Amy Smart, a board member of Heal the Bay, place a Whale Tail Ecoplate on a car Tuesday following a press conference on the Santa Monica Pier.

(photo by Santa Monica Convention & Visitors Bureau)

SM PIER — Supporting ocean cleanliness got a fresh face Tuesday when the Department of Motor Vehicles and California Coastal Commission joined forces to reveal a redesigned custom license plate, the sale of which will benefit ocean-loving nonprofits all over the state.

Santa Monica was one of three cities chosen to unveil the new design, which shows a fully-extended humpback whale’s tail jutting up out of the ocean, framed by puffy white clouds.

The plate, which first debuted in 1997, has been one of the most popular specialty license plates available in the state, and has raised $60.2 million for environmental conservation efforts.

“We’re really thrilled about the launch of the California license plate,” said Assemblywoman Julia Brownley (D-Santa Monica), one of several notables that spoke at the event. “When I’m not in Sacramento, not a day goes by that I’m not marveling at the environmental treasure that California has in this coastline.”

The original design, by the artist Wyland, shows a foggy day on the ocean, and a whale’s tail curved over the surface of the water.

To date, the DMV has sold 198,000 of the original plates.

That design had to be retired on July 1, because Wyland asked for a 20 percent royalty for plate sales, officials said.

“While we are grateful to Wyland for his donation over many years, we opted to retire the plate,” said California Coastal Commission Executive Director Peter Douglas. “This presented an exciting opportunity to freshen the look of the plate, inspire new interest and get the public involved.”

The California Coastal Commission held a contest asking the public to send in designs for the plate. Over 300 people sent in designs, and the selection committee managed to narrow that cache of ideas to two winners.

Those winners, painter Elizabeth Robinette Tyndall of Bethel Island and graphic designer Bill Atkins of Laguna Beach, collaborated on the new design.

“(The DMV) would like to say job well done,” said Christina Harden, who represented the department at the pier event.

Selling the plates has a palpable impact here in Santa Monica.

Of the 433 Whale Tail grants that have been awarded through the program, Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay has benefited to the tune of $30,000 to fund its beach clean up programs.

The organization organizes between 600 and 900 clean ups every year for the stretch of beach between Cabrillo and Zuma beaches, said Eveline Bravo, the beach programs manager for Heal the Bay.

Whale Tail money pays for approximately 500 of those projects, she said.

“It’s the sole reason why the clean ups at Heal the Bay exist,” she said.

The license plates both fund the pick-ups and raise awareness, said Amy Smart, actress and board member of Heal the Bay, pointing out that 80 percent of trash found on beaches comes from 60 miles away.

“The Whale Tail plate is an easy way to let people know that we need to protect our sea,” she said.

To encourage people to get out and buy the plates, Mayor Scott Schoeffel of the city of Dana Point issued an invitation to other mayors for a Whale Tail Cities Challenge, to see which participating city can claim the most plates sold, as a percentage of population before Sept. 17.

The winning city will get a basket of locally produced foods and beverages from each of the participating cities, to be shared at a community meeting or event.

Sept. 17 marks the endpoint of the competition because it’s also the 27th Annual California Coastal Cleanup Day, which is partially funded by the sale of the “Ecoplates.”

Over 82,000 volunteers participated in last year’s event, and collected 1.2 million pounds of trash.

A coalition of Convention and Visitor’s Bureaus from coastal cities including Santa Monica hope to inspire even more this year by giving away a $1,000 gift certificate to Whole Foods Market and a getaway to a California destination to lucky participants.

Whale Tail Ecoplates can be bought at or at one of 168 DMV locations. Plates cost $50, or $93 for personalized versions.

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