Heal the Bay is celebrating its 36th anniversary by officially moving back to an in-person group cleanup for Coastal Cleanup Day on Sept. 18.

The annual event encourages volunteers to clean beaches across the state and Heal The Bay’s event will focus on the sand in Santa Monica.

Heal the Bay also issues water quality grades for hundreds of California beaches each week via the Beach Report Card with NowCast, provides weekly water quality grades for dozens of freshwater areas with the River Report Card, educates thousands of local students each year and operates the award-winning Heal the Bay Aquarium.

However, with COVID-19 still present in Los Angeles County, Emely Garcia, Senior Beach and Watershed Programs Manager said, “We are encouraging everyone to social distance, wear their masks, and follow CDC guidelines when they take part in the clean up.”

Due to the ongoing pandemic Heal the Bay is also recommending volunteers who feel safer in uncrowded spaces download the Clean Swell App, where users can go on self-guided trips and track their progress. The last in-person Coastal Cleanup Day was in 2019, and people across the country picked up 30,000 pounds of trash.

“We were able to analyze data from the app, and we were able to see the top items found in L.A. County. Garcia said, “All the usual suspects were found like takeout containers, plastic forks, knives, utensils, and cigarette butts.”

Heal The Bay focuses on the protection of the community and marine life alike by using advocacy, education, and social media.

“The pandemic took a significant toll on all of us in so many ways,” said the Commission’s Executive Director Jack Ainsworth. “There were times when outdoor spaces became the only places many of us could safely go to refresh and reflect. While it’s been wonderful to see so many rediscover and enjoy our coast, some of those spaces paid the price for our inability to run organized cleanup events last year. This Coastal Cleanup Day will be an important opportunity for us all to take care of this precious resource.”

For the first time ever, masks and gloves made their way into the top ten trash items found in LA’s favorite outdoor areas. “It was really alarming that we saw the pandemic affect our waste stream,” Garcia said.

Over the last 20 years, Heal the Bay volunteers have removed more than 4 million pieces of trash and debris from LA County beaches. But there are still 8 million tons of plastic being dumped into our waterways every year, which is equivalent to one garbage truck full every single minute.

Online volunteer registration began Sept. 1 at 10 a.m. Heal The Bay is expecting 5,000 volunteers at 30 individual sites on Coastal Cleanup Day.

For more information, visit healthebay.org.