We did it folks, we called Cardiff State Beach dirty.
Not too much fuss was made when Mission Beach took the dubious honor last year, or Ocean Beach before that, or Pacific Beach before that….
Most residents probably shrugged and throught, Well, yeah, tourists. But people seem to feel differently about Cardiff. They aren’t too thrilled that someone is plugging their nose and pointing at their beach and saying “ewy.” And they shouldn’t be thrilled.
San Diego County has 70 miles of beautiful coastline that deserves to be protected, and Cardiff State Beach is a beautiful beach. We love spending time there. We also know from years of experience in the beach cleanup industry (is that a thing?) that just becuase a beach is beautiful, and we love it and have all kind of great memories there, does not mean that there isn’t also trash there.
People litter. People throw things in the street, or let their waste bins overflow, and it washes to the beach when the rains come (and then, of course, we blame the rain).
Go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back if you aren’t one of those people, and give yourself another one if you are the kind of person who picks up someone else’s disgusting trash when you find it on your beach. And go ahead an give yourself another pat if you are a little ticked off that Cardiff State Beach was just called dirty. Because you should be.
It’s probably a good time to explain how we arrive at that conclusion. San Diego Coastkeeper and Surfrider Foundation San Diego County Chapterhost a few dozen cleanups each year. At every single cleanup we host, volunteers keep data sheets with records of the items they find. There are several catagories, such as “Cigarettes/Cigarette Butts” and “Plastic Food Wrappers” and “Plastic Bags.” Additionally, at the end of the cleanup, we weigh all the bags of trash that have been collected. Each cleanup gets its own weight number. If we return to that beach again later in the year, that number grows. At the end of the year, we pull up all the data we have collected over the past twelve months, and start running the numbers.
Now, let me say that beach cleanups are not a perfect science. As with most pursuits, there are a lot of factors involved that we can’t control. Each beach is different. Even trash levels flucuate throughout the year, peaking during tourist season and after winter storms. This is why we use metrics like “pounds of trash per volunteer effort” to help us understand the data we collect. By normalizing the pounds of trash volunteers collected to the number of people who volunteered, we get a sense of trash density. This is our only way of correcting for effort, given that we have different numbers of volunteers show up each time we host a cleanup and that the beaches we attend to are all different sizes. In 2013, Cardiff State Beach had the highest trash density. That is to say, the most trash found per volunteer effort. That magic number was 4.06 pounds per volunteer.
For those folks out there who have continued to ask us questions about this, allow me to break it down.
When San Diego Coastkeeper and Surfrider San Diego host beach cleanups, they are open to the public. Fifty people might show up to a cleanup at Beach A, while 250 show up for a cleanup at Beach B. If we were to take the results from the big cleanup of 250 people and look only at the total weight of the trash they picked up, we might see a number like 100lbs. That’s a lot of trash. Let’s then say we head over to that 50-person cleanup at Beach A and find that they have collected 70 lbs of trash. Well, 70lbs is not as much trash as 100lbs. So should we say Beach B is “dirtier” than Beach A? No. Because when we use our handy dandy pounds/volunteer equasion, we find that Beach A has a higher trash density.
In 2013, Moonlight Beach came out on top as having the highest total trash weight at the end of the year. That number was 1,011 pounds. So why didn’t we name Moonlight the dirtiest? Because it took a heck of a lot more volunteers to pick up all that trash than it took to pick up Cardiff’s trash total. And that is why we called Cardiff State Beach “dirty.”
Allow me one last caveat. Maybe Cardiff stood out in our end-of-year analysis because the people who showed up for the cleanups there just love that beach so gosh darn much that they really dug in and went the extra mile. They pulled out over four pounds of trash per person. Considering that most of what we find are small items like cigarette buts, plastic bags, and plastic foam, that is no small feat.
So maybe “dirtiest” can mean “most loved” too.