Keeping the Los Angeles coast clear

When it came time to choose a charity project for his September 2014 bar mitzvah, Ben Moody knew he wanted to support a cause close to his heart. “We’re always on our boat and at the beach, and we love the water,” Moody, 12, said of his Westlake Village family. He counts surfing and bodyboarding as some of his favorite activities. “I love the beach and everything about it,” he said.

Moody had taken part in Coastal Cleanup Day in 2009, an international volunteer event organized annually in Los Angeles County by the nonprofit Heal the Bay, and remembered how much fun it was to comb the sand and sea for trash and return his cherished environs to a more pristine state. So he decided to take part in this year’s Coastal Cleanup Day on Sept. 21 and raise funds to aid Heal the Bay’s work. 

“Everyone has been really supportive,” said Moody, who has raised more than $600 so far. “They all said it’s a really good project for me.”

Moody could be one of a record-breaking number of volunteers who will converge on polluted waterways around the world for Coastal Cleanup Day this Saturday, which organizers bill as the largest single-day volunteer event on the planet. In L.A. County alone, Heal the Bay will run more than 50 coastal and inland cleanup sites, which could draw up to 10,000 local volunteers for a morning of environmental teshuvah.

Founded in 1985 by the California Coastal Commission, Coastal Cleanup Day is managed in California by the Ocean Conservancy. This year marks Heal the Bay’s 24th year coordinating the effort in L.A. County, and organizers are now pushing a “zero-waste” approach to cleanup, said Alix Hobbs, Heal the Bay’s acting executive director. Volunteers are encouraged to bring their own protective gloves, reusable bags and buckets to collect trash, and should leave plastic water bottles at home. “This way, we’ll completely reduce the amount of trash that we produce for the event,” Hobbs said. In honor of Los Angeles’ recent ban on plastic bags, the first 100 volunteers to arrive at city cleanup sites will receive a free reusable bag.

Cleanup sites will span Malibu to Long Beach, but the central hub of activity will be the Santa Monica Pier. The day will kick off with a free “Peace on the Beach” peace circle hosted by Naam Yoga, and volunteers can later watch a dory race or take part in a stand-up paddleboard clinic taught by professional trainers. In the afternoon, all volunteers will be granted free admission to the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium. 

Volunteers can collect trash in a variety of ways: on foot, by kayak at some sites, or by paddleboard. At the Santa Monica Pier, along with a select few other coastal sites, scuba-certified divers will also have the chance to scour for underwater debris. 

“It’s a fun experience,” Hobbs said. “We start the day with yoga — cleanse your body, cleanse your mind, and then go ahead and clean the beach as well. We want to make the overall event fun for families. But underlying the day is the message that every day should be Coastal Cleanup Day. We need to think about, what can we do every day to make sure our trash doesn’t end up in our storm drains, in our oceans?”

About 6.4 million tons of litter enter the oceans each year, advocacy groups estimate. Eighty percent of that litter comes from waste on land — cigarette butts, bottle caps, fast-food wrappers and other items that often end up in street sewers eventually make their way into rivers and streams, and from there into the ocean. 

Since California began participating in Coastal Cleanup Day in 1985, more than 800,000 volunteers have removed more than 14 million pounds of trash from along the coast. Last year, statewide, 62,668 volunteers gathered 728,289 pounds of trash and 143,291 pounds of recyclables from cleanup sites spanning 1,500 miles. About 9,000 L.A. County volunteers cleared away some 40,000 pounds of debris — about 20 tons — before it reached the ocean.

“We eliminate an enormous amount of trash before the October rains, when it all gets flushed to the ocean,” Hobbs said. “We want to get the trash out before that happens — out of our alleyways, out of storm drains, off of beach sites.”

Coastal Cleanup Day often draws Jewish community and synagogue volunteer groups as well as b’nai mitzvah students raising funds for charity projects. Volunteers range in age from toddlers to seniors and include youth groups, school clubs, sororities and fraternities, Boy Scouts and religious institutions. 

This year’s Coastal Cleanup Day falls during a time of transition for Heal the Bay. On Sept. 16, Ruskin Hartley, former executive director of the Save the Redwoods League in San Francisco, took over as the Santa Monica nonprofit’s new CEO. Heal the Bay will remain close to its founding mission to protect and preserve Southern California’s coastal waters and watersheds, said Hobbs, who will stay on as associate director. Next year the organization will hold its first strategic planning meeting since 2010 to discuss new challenges, like climate change — but its work will retain a regional focus, Hobbs said. 

This Coastal Cleanup Day will be Hobbs’ 15th. “For me, seeing the volunteer numbers increase every year, over time … we’ve really made an impact,” she said. 

For more information or to register for a cleanup site, visit