Coastal Cleanup Day: Volunteers at Coastal Cleanup Day picked up a bucket and got to work cleaning trash on Santa Monica beaches. Photo by Thomas Leffler

Santa Monica beaches were more crowded than usual on a Saturday morning, as tourists and visitors were joined by local environmental volunteers for Coastal Cleanup Day. The annual event, hosted locally by nonprofit organization Heal the Bay, saw volunteers scour the beaches for plastics and other harmful litter, bringing back buckets full of waste for proper disposal at cleanup sites. In total, over 5,300 volunteers came out across the Los Angeles area, removing over 11,000 pounds of trash from beaches and neighborhoods.

One such cleanup site was held just off the Santa Monica Pier, where site captain Art Salter supervised an effort that brought 497 volunteers to the area, collecting 437 pounds of trash throughout the morning. Salter has been in charge of cleanup sites for over a decade, partnering with Heal the Bay in the climate-cleansing action.

“When I retired, I decided to do something to give back to the community, so I thought, what a great idea … I went to the Heal the Bay office and … they said okay, (we) would love to have you, this is going to be your site.”

Salter’s selection of space near the Pier was personally appealing due to the amount of young visitors to the tourist hotspot.

“When I used to bring my kids to the beach, I remember seeing the beaches full of cigarette butts, needles, other items … I kept thinking, there’s a trash can right next to you there, why can’t you just put the trash into it?,” he said. “People (usually) just (gave) me a look. So when I talked to Heal the Bay and the opportunity came up to volunteer … this is one of the things I wanted to do.”

Before receiving a collection bucket for the morning, volunteers were given a “safety talk” by Heal the Bay stewards, describing the mission of the day and facilitating conversation about local environmental issues. After the talk, volunteers were signed in and given their equipment by students with California State University Northridge’s Bridge to the Future program. The program provides students from Canoga Park High School with a tuition-free education in exchange for acts of service such as beach cleanups.

CSUN professor David Boyns heads the group of 120 students, taking a role helping organizers of cleanups with logistics and to aid in supporting environmental awareness.

“One of the commitments we have as a group is to help support environmental sustainability … they want to be a part of action, not just educational components … do what they can, what little they can to help the environment,” Boyns said.

Working mainly in the San Fernando Valley, Boyns and his students know the connection that all Los Angeles-area locations have to coastlines in terms of climate risks.

“All of the things that we do in our neighborhoods, how we dispose of trash … how we keep our communities clean … a lot of what they see here is litter that comes to the beach, but some of it is runoff that comes from other parts of Los Angeles.”

Thomas Leffler has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism from Penn State University and has been in the industry since 2015. Prior to working at SMDP, he was a writer for AccuWeather and managed...