How We Use Trash to Make a Difference

Written by Kristin Kuhn

San Diego Coastkeeper brings together volunteers to keep our beaches clean for everyone to enjoy. But that’s only the beginning.  

Up to 80 percent of trash found in the ocean originated on land. That means it wasn’t dumped into the ocean intentionally, but ended up in the water after being improperly disposed of on land. Sadly, San Diego’s marine life is in danger of ingesting or becoming entangled in marine debris. To make a lasting impact on the health of our ocean and marine life, we must work to keep trash on land from becoming marine debris in the first place.

That’s why San Diego Coastkeeper volunteers not only collect trash from beaches, they fill out a debris data card to record each piece of trash they find. We use this data from all our beach cleanups to analyze the state of San Diego beaches every year. Our cleanups are so much more than beach beautification activities – they are a way to prevent marine debris and participate in an ongoing study about the origins, quantities, and types of trash on our beaches.

San Diego Coastkeeper provides three ways to get involved with beach cleanups to combat marine debris in our region. First, we’ve teamed up with Surfrider Foundation San Diego Chapter to host twice-a-month public beach cleanups across San Diego County. We bring the supplies and anyone is welcome to join us for a two-hour cleanup. Second, our Sponsored Cleanup Program allows companies and organizations to provide a private cleanup event for their employees as both a team building activity and a way of enhancing their corporate stewardship. Finally, we encourage people to borrow our cleanup supplies when we are not using them through our Beach Cleanup in a Box program. We love empowering San Diegans to be good stewards of their coastal environment whenever they can, regardless of our cleanup schedule.

All these beach cleanups combined have led to the removal of over 72,325 pounds of trash from our beaches and waterways since 2007. In 2015, cigarettes and cigarette butts were once again the most prevalent type of debris found at our beach cleanups. Littered butts continue to be a major concern for the health of San Diego County beaches. The problem with cigarette butts is that they are non-biodegradable and leach toxins into the water, poisoning marine life. They also move with ease through the City’s stormwater system, meaning a cigarette butt dropped elsewhere can easily end up at the beach. Click here to read more about what we’ve learned from the latest beach cleanup data.

Published in Marine Debris

Meditations in Blue

Written by Kristin Kuhn

San Diego Coastkeeper member, Water Quality Monitor, and beach cleanup host extraordinaire Amanda Sousa is a water lover in the truest sense. When she sailed from Ensenada to Oahu, Amanda experienced just how wondrously huge our ocean is and how quickly we become small in its presence. And yet, despite all this vastness, there was one persistent and unwelcome visitor from which Amanda could not escape. In her own words, Amanda describes how these constant encounters impacted her. 

No land in sight. Still, there was plastic.

No land in sight. Still, there was plastic.

I recently had the opportunity to crew on a passage from Ensenada, Mexico to Oahu, Hawaii on a 44-ft Leopard Catamaran owned by my dad’s friends, Ian Steele and Sharon Lockhart. I jumped at the opportunity to do some blue water sailing; to hop on the trade winds, experience falling seas, sail wing on wing and live the adventure. On the water, I was absolutely struck by the sheer grandeur of the ocean, I felt so small compared to its vastness.

Day after day there was no sight of land, and yet day after day I saw plastic. We did not chart a course into the Northern Pacific Gyre and were not looking for plastic, but there it was every single day. Over 19 days of different wind speeds, different currents and small swells to large swells, it was always there.

The plastic came in all different sizes from small fragments to ghost nets tangled in a large blob.  There was plastic that looked as if it just blown in the water from my home in Pacific Beach, plastic that looked as if it made its way overboard and plastic that had been floating for what looked like years. I started to feel that the ocean was a whole lot smaller.

Amanda Sousa, San Diego Coastkeeper volunteer of the yearIt pains me that the beautiful ocean, in all it’s splendor, has been so polluted by our trash. This plastic did not fall from the sky and there is no excuse for it being 1,200 miles from shore other than the disregard of our impact to this world. 

The damage that has been done is so pervasive and ubiquitous. It was heartbreaking to witness right in front of my eyes. In the deepest parts of my heart I love the oceans, the streams, the lakes and the rivers; I love the animals that live and depend on these water bodies (including all of us); I love the plants that bloom and creep in these places. This passage has reinforced my love of the beauty of the ocean and has also strengthened my conviction that we need to realize our impact. We must take active steps to eliminate this ubiquitous plastic from our lives, our world and our wild places.

Amanda sporting her swimmable, fishable, drinkable t-shirtI am a clean water advocate, I am a volunteer and I am a supporter of San Diego Coastkeeper. Collectively, we need to put more energy toward our most precious resource. Now more than ever, we need to take a hard look inside and decide what we want in this world. I have decided I want fishable, swimmable, drinkable water; I want wild places; I want the ocean to be just blue; I want to be small in the ocean again.



Published in Marine Debris

San Diego Coastkeeper: Epic Volunteers Clean the Beach

Recently, LUSH volunteers teamed up with San Diego Coastkeeper to help clean a local beach. In just 2 hours, they collected over 2500 pieces of plastic, more than 800 cigarette butts, and over 600 pieces of Styrofoam—totaling almost 27 lbs of trash!

Twice-a-month, Coastkeeper, and our partners Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Chapter, hosts a local beach cleanup like this one. If you love your beach and like it clean, bring your friends and family to volunteer at our next event! All of our upcoming beach cleanups can easily be found by visiting this link: http://localhost/sdcoastkeeper

Published in Videos

EPMG gives back to San Diego

Beach cleanup volunteers with EPMG could not have chosen a nicer day to pick up debris on Pacific Beach while enjoying the beautiful San Diego weather. EPMG hosted one of our Sponsored Beach Cleanups, a great opportunity for corporate groups and organizations to learn more about pollution and how to prevent it through a hands-on beach cleanup experience.


Within the first hour, the 27 volunteers from EPMG had already found three dead birds, potentially a result of ingestion of marine debris or entanglement in materials that made its way to the beach. By the end of the cleanup, they had picked up 2,720 cigarette butts from the beach and the boardwalk.

Cigarette butts are one of the main contributors to marine pollution, taking anywhere from 18 months to ten years to break down. Just one cigarette butt in a liter of water is lethal to fish and other marine animals and their constant presence is concerning.

In 2012, we found over 70,000 cigarette butts throughout San Diego county. Slowing their accumulation in our waterways depends on proper disposal of cigarette butts, rather than leaving them on sidewalks and in storm drains, where they can eventually make their way to our beaches.

Volunteers from EPMG collected over 38 pounds of trash during their cleanup, finding more than a pound per person. In addition to cigarette butts, small plastics were found in abundance across the beach. Over 400 unidentifiable plastic pieces and nearly 200 plastic bottle cpas, straws, and food wrappers were collected. Many of these come from drinks and snacks we bring to the beach in single-use containers. As summer beach season approaches, do your part and consider bringing food and drinks in a reusable container that won’t get left behind!

EPMG volunteers got an up close look at one of the many marine organisms impacted by marine debris and their cleanup efforts. A baby sea lion, possibly impacted by the current food shortage, made its way up onto the beach. Quickly attended to by the SeaWorld animal rescue team, the sea lion pup’s presence was a reminder that we share our beaches and water with more than just people. So many items removed from the beach by EPMG could pose a serious threat to marine mammals like sea lions. Keeping our beaches and waterways clear of small plastics and toxic cigarette butts are a small way to make a huge difference for human health and marine life alike.

San Diego Coastkeeper is thankful for companies like EPMG who are committed to making a difference in San Diego’s communities. Keeping our water clean and safe is something we strive for every day, and we need the help and awareness of our volunteers.

Published in Marine Debris

Navy sailors work with EPA to clean Silver Strand

Last week, I was invited to attend a beach cleanup along Silver Strand training beach with sailors from Naval Base Coronado. Anytime I get to help with a beach cleanup is a great opportunity, but being able to participate with one where so few people get to visit was an incredible experience.

Sailors who work every day on Silver Strand arrived to help make their “office” a little cleaner and to give back to the greater San Diego community. Working for about three hours, the team hauled more than 12 cubic yards of debris from the beach, completing EPA marine debris data cards as they worked. Slightly different from San Diego Coastkeeper’s beach cleanup cards, the EPA is looking closer at the source of debris. Asking volunteers to not only tally their findings, but note any specific brands they can identify during the cleanup.


The Navy cleanup is held annually in advance of the Western snowy plover and California least tern nesting season, when Navy training is adjusted to avoid potential damage to nests. With the season starting March 1, the removal of debris plays a huge role in helping these birds to survive and thrive along Silver Strand.

While not coordinated by Coastkeeper, being at the cleanup was a great way to see the part the Navy plays here in San Diego in minimizing our marine debris issues and what strides the EPA is taking to tackle the same problem.

Cleaning a beach vital to San Diego and our military alongside Navy sailors and EPA representatives was a strong reminder of just how important clean and healthy water is to all of us. No matter where you live or work, we all can contribute to the marine debris problem and we can all be an equally effective part of the solution.

Both the LA Times and CBS News 8 were present and reported on the cleanup and Coastkeeper’s presence.

Published in Marine Debris

LUSH Cosmetics connects with San Diego’s coast

San Diego Coastkeeper offers a number of ways for the community to get involved in keeping our waters clean. Our beach cleanup program gives groups and individuals a way to actively participate in the solution through our monthly cleanups and Beach Cleanup in a Box. LUSH_2_2_13

A few times a year, we get the chance to work with a group through a Sponsored Cleanup, and they’re often some of the most memorable experiences in this program. This past week, we were lucky enough to host such a cleanup with the support of LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics. In town for a meeting, 30 LUSH employees from across North America came together at La Jolla Shores for an incredible day of giving back and learning.

This wasn’t just another beach cleanup. There was something unique about the work done by this group. While talking with them about the the sources of marine debris, they shared with me ways they work to fight the problem in their own lives and through their work with LUSH. As a company that uses 100 percent post-consumer recycled bottles, biodegradable packing peanuts (instead of Styrofoam!), and uses fresh ingredients in their products, they were all personally connected to the marine debris problem and saw how their responsible choices made huge impacts on our waters.

Meticulously filling out their data cards, the LUSH team collected over 4,835 items from La Jolla Shores, sitting along an Area of Special Biological Significance. In two hours, they removed 26.85 pounds, including 2,542 plactic items, 809 cigarette butts and 636 Styrofoam pieces.


For a cold February afternoon, their enthusiam and excitement to make a difference that day was infectious. Surfers and joggers stopped to thank them for their work, giving our visitors a chance to connect with the people directly impacted by their efforts that day. It was also a reminder that those responsible choices they make in their own lives and through LUSH have a greater influence than they sometimes see.


Before leaving the beach that day, all 30 LUSH team members, hailing from across the US and Canada, became San Diego Coastkeeper members . While those of us who work and play in San Diego’s water know the challenge we have in protecting it, it’s a wonderful reminder that we have members 1,000s of miles away supporting our work and have actively contributed to solving those problems.


All of us at San Diego Coastkeeper would like to send a huge Thank You to the LUSH team for their efforts at La Jolla Shores and back home!


If you are interested in arranging a Sponsored Cleanup with San Diego Coastkeeper, please contact us at 619-758-7743 x131 or at

Published in Marine Debris

Data Cards Create 2012 Marine Debris Report

If you’ve ever helped out at a San Diego Coastkeeper or Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Chapter beach cleanup, you’ve likely been handed one of our data cards along with your bags, gloves and trash grabbers. While the data card is sometimes met with enthusiasm, there is equal parts confusion. The reaction is similar to students who are told they get to watch a movie in class but have to fill out a worksheet too.

Unlike your movie worksheet in 6th grade, the data sheet we hand you isn’t graded but it does get used long after your day at a beach cleanup. They get compiled in our annual marine debris report and help direct decisions and actions.

The data cards are used to track what debris we’re finding on our beaches throughout the year. Every part of the card you fill out helps us to improve our understanding of marine debris in San Diego. They allow us to help plan for future cleanups, make local recommendations, design education programs, and study the impacts of policy.

Filling out a data card for an hour or two or cleanup may not seem like a big deal, but by each one of our 4,308 volunteers in 2012 helping to correctly fill out their data cards, we are able to learn far more about marine debris that we could on our own.

Thanks to data cards, we know:

  • 7,594 pounds of trash were removed in 2012. This means each volunteer removed roughly 1.72 pounds of trash. That’s over a pound more than in previous years!
  • Ocean Beach, historically one of the dirtiest beaches, is now one of the cleanest, with less than 1 pound removed per volunteer.
  • 32% of all items were plastic and 40% were cigarette butts. In fact, 20,000 more cigarette butts were found on beaches this year. Yikes!
  • Over 53,000 debris items on our beaches are actually recyclable. Teaching our neighbors, family, and friends about what we can recycle could make a huge difference.Cleanup_Carefusion_Aug12_2
  • A record low number of plastic bags were found, which means we’re making better choices as a community. However, we collected 7,500, and this is still too many plastic bags on our beaches.

Thanks to all of our wonderful volunteers who helped make this another successful year of beach cleanups and contributed to our data collection.

Want to be a part of our 2013 marine debris program? Come out to any one of our beach cleanups. San Diego Coastkeeper is also happy to arrange special cleanups through our Beach Cleanup in Box and Sponsored Cleanup Program. We’ll supply you with everything you need to make your beaches a little cleaner, including a data card.

Published in Marine Debris

Coastkeeper and UCSD tackle marine debris sources

ASBS_UCSD_Cleanup2Beach cleanups are one of our volunteers’ favorite programs. Who doesn’t love a morning on the beach with friends and family while helping to solve our global marine debris issue? So far this year, more than 1,000 Coastkeeper volunteers have removed over 2,736 pounds of trash from our coastline.

Impressive work, but still troubling.

Even with many responsible and concerned individuals keeping our beaches free of trash, there’s always more to remove. So where is it coming from? Were all 2,615 plastic bags collected this year intentionally or accidentally left at the beach? Most likely, no.

San Diego is home to 11 watersheds, areas in which all water from rain, creeks, rivers and streams drains into the same location. For San Diegans, that common location is the Pacific Ocean. Water moving through our watershed transports trash left on the ground and moved out of trash bins by wind or animals to the ocean.

To address some of our inland pollution sources, San Diego Coastkeeper and UCSD Environment, Health & Safety teamed  for a cleanup of the UCSD campus. Opting for a morning in a parking lot and inland canyons over a Southern California beach may not seem a fair trade, but what we found might convince you otherwise.

Twenty-one volunteers removed 31 pounds of trash. This included 4,201 cigarette butts. Just as a reference, our 150 volunteers at our Coastal Cleanup Day site at Tourmaline Beach found 130 pounds of trash. They collected 672 cigarette butts. Inland pollution needs a little more credit than we’ve been giving it.

Trash left behind at UCSD can travel all the way to La Jolla Shores. Here, trash entering the ocean is unsightly and directly impacts an Area of Special Biological Significance (ASBS) where pollutants are banned. This area is considered so ecologically important that the state gave this designation to 88 acres at Scripps and 450 acres at La Jolla.

Maintaining the health of our ASBS regions in San Diego is critical but difficult to manage. Impacted by actions not only along the coast, but throughout the watershed, each individual living here has a role in protecting them.

Given the success of our event with UCSD Environment, Health & Safety, Coastkeeper is looking forward to more programs focused on our inland areas to protect our water and coastline. In the meantime, do your part. Help protect the unique and fragile ecosystems we have in our backyard by remembering your actions have an impact, even far from the coast.

Published in Marine Debris

Volunteers continue to impress at Coastal Cleanup Day

Looking at the forecast for this past weekend, my hopes for a large turnout on Coastal Cleanup Day were dwindling. By 10 a.m. on Saturday temperatures sailed past 90 degrees at the coast and inland areas were expecting to see the thermometer rise over 100. I expected most would see this as a great excuse to sit in front of the air conditioning.

I’m proud to say I was wrong.

On September 15, San Diego Coastkeeper was joined at Tourmaline Beach by 157 volunteers for our cleanup efforts as a part of the 28th Annual Coastal Cleanup Day. With generous support from Teva, volunteers at Tourmaline removed 130 pounds of trash from 4,000 feet of shoreline.


We were joined by moms and dads, families, friends, coworkers, and school groups. Volunteers came from across the county, with a few visitors from Arizona and beyond. Some were beach cleanup veterans, while others were there for their very first one. They gave up their Saturday morning, that extra hour or two of sleep, college football games, and air conditioning for a few hours making a positive impact on their community.

I couldn’t help but be exceptionally proud that so many San Diegans value our waters and environment enough to choose the latter.

I am so proud that I live in a place where over half of our volunteers brought their own reusable buckets, trash pickers and gloves. I’m proud they are teaching their kids and neighbors to do the same.

So many people came to me feeling they had not done enough. They had only picked up a few small items or their bag only weighed a pound or two. I couldn’t have been prouder of those small bags filled with bits of plastic and Styrofoam.

Most of our 1,766 items removed were small particles that possess a real threat to our marine life and water quality. If you hadn’t been, they’d still be sitting on the sand, waiting to be washed out into the ocean. In just three hours, 672 cigarettes, 92 straws, 99 plastic bags, and 49 plastic utensils were picked up. These items, though small and seemingly insignificant, make some of the biggest impacts when removed.

Knowing that so many individuals in San Diego are willing to do the right thing, to pass along the values of environmental stewardship to family and friends, protecting our swimmable, fishable, drinkable water doesn’t feel quite as daunting. In fact, it almost seems within reach.

But we can’t do it alone.

Published in Marine Debris

Take a Survey to Protect Del Mar Beaches

My name is Derek Kiy, and I am a junior at Canyon Crest Academy. When I began the conceptualization of an Eagle Scout project, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to make a legitimate impact on the community. I contacted San Diego Coastkeeper regarding a project proposal, and they jumped on the opportunity to guide me through the process. This project aims to rid Del Mar of Styrofoam takeout containers through the education of the community.

The first step on this odyssey is a survey that we, Coastkeeper and I, have worked on to gauge public opinion regarding Styrofoam takeout containers in Del Mar. The data regarding the prevalence, usage and preference of the containers will prove to be paramount. The analysis of the data we collect will allow us to craft the best educational tools, strategies and materials to help Del Mar residents learn about the negative environmental effects of polystyrene containers.

Through our education, we aim to inform the community of the huge and unnecessary cost of the plastic foam usage. Any and all participation in the survey is greatly appreciated so please, I implore you to spread this survey to your friends, family or anybody else you know.

By enabling the gathering of data, you become crusader for a cleaner and healthier Del Mar. This city’s identity is so closely tied to it pristine waters that it only makes sense to guard those waters so everyone who spends time in Del Mar may enjoy the coast it has become renowned for. Helping Del Mar’s coast is not a matter of moving mountains, but rather taking small steps and actions to make a huge difference.

Want to help with my efforts? Take this short survey about Styrofoam in San Diego. Thank you!

Published in Marine Debris