For the first time in two years, hundreds of students will spend the day Wednesday helping to clean up Santa Monica beaches and learning about the local environment as part of Heal the Bay’s Coastal Clean-up Education Day. The event, which began in 2005, has been on hold since 2020 due to COVID-19.

The event is associated with Heal the Bay’s annual Coastal Clean-up Day, scheduled for this Saturday, Sept. 17, which draws thousands of volunteers annually to collect trash and assist with other clean-up and restoration efforts in partnership with other local organizations. Volunteers can choose to participate at any of more than 35 sites across LA county ranging from Malibu to Long Beach as well as several inland locations.

While students participating in this week’s education day will also take part in clean-up efforts, Kelly Kelly, senior education manager at Heal the Bay, said the emphasis is on teaching them about the environment and the causes and consequences of pollution.

“It’s not just about picking up trash on the beach, but also learning ‘how does it get here in the first place,’” Kelly said. “Just understanding that our actions, no matter where we live, affect the broader ecosystem, the broader habitat. So, litter and pollution on the other side of downtown Los Angeles can end up on the beach and why is that important not just to the ocean animals but to us.”

She said students will rotate between five different educational stations on the beach and in Heal the Bay’s aquarium.

“They get to use tools like sand sifters, they get to kind of explore and we encourage observations, like so ‘what do they notice?’ and then asking questions like ‘what do they wonder about it’?’” Kelly said.

Prior to the pandemic, Kelly said around 10,000 students from around LA would come for field trips every year, around 11% of which were SMMUSD students.

Kelly said that prior to the pandemic about 500 students would participate in Coastal Clean-up Education Day. This year she said there will be fewer at around 280, but she sees it as a good start in ramping back up the organization’s in-person programming and getting kids outdoors to learn.

“We’re excited, we have a lot of field trips already booked this year, the majority fully back in person,” Kelly said.

Kelly said she hopes Coastal Clean-up Education Day and the organization’s ongoing education work help kids to better understand the environmental issues facing the world and empower them to take action to address them at both the collective and individual level.

“Coastal Clean-up day is a large international effort to clean up, but you can also do things like ask your local restaurant to not serve single use plastic or it could also be supporting policies like the plastic bag ban,” she said. “Reduce, reuse, recycle- it’s in that order for a reason and a lot of those are personal actions.”

More information about Coastal Clean-up day and how to register can be found at Heal the Bay’s website. All ages are welcome to participate but those under the age of 18 need a signed safety waiver which can also be found on the website

Grace Adams

Grace Adams is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University where she studied Spanish and journalism. She holds a Master’s degree in investigative journalism from City, University of London. She has experience...