Data from San Diego Beach Cleanups

San Diego Coastkeeper and the San Diego Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation conduct twice-monthly beach cleanups throughout the county to address the issue of trash in our oceans and on our beaches. So far, we have successfully completed nearly 200 beach cleanups.

In January 2007, we started collecting information from data cards distributed to volunteers. This data helps us to identify and share information about major pollution sources in San Diego. We upload the information to our interactive beach data site, and these are some highlights of what we have learned from 2007 through 2013:

The total weight of trash collected and volunteerism decreased.

2007-13 Weight and Volunteerism Graph
The total annual pounds of trash (represented by the bars) collected by the number of volunteers (represented by the line) in San Diego monthly beach cleanups between the years of 2007 and 2013.













The top ten items found at our cleanups remained similar to previous years.


  • A large amount of items found are composed of plastic. These items take a very long time to break down in the marine environment, leaching chemicals into the surrounding water as they do, and pose a significant threat to wildlife, including sea birds, sea turtles and marine mammals. Plastics do not biodegrade, but only break into smaller, more brittle pieces that easily find their ways into the bellies of sealife.
  • We collected 14,500 fewer cigarette butts in 2013 than in 2012. That decrease is promising, but not conclusively indicative of an overall decreasing trend. The numbers of these plastic toxic bombs are still staggering: volunteers counted 6,272 butts at just one cleanup in PB this year, and the total for the year was over 58,000.
  • Styrofoam pieces were again one of the top three items counted. Numbers have dropped off a bit after 2010’s spike to 25,000; we counted 16,166 pieces in total this year between our regular monthly cleanups and our other cleanup programs. By far, the highest counts centered on the North County beaches of Moonlight Beach and South Carlsbad State Beach.
  • Historically, Coronado Beach has an issue with single-use and take-out plastics. It frequently ranked highest in the number of plastic bags, bottle caps, plastic lids, cups, and straws, and plastic food wrappers.
  • Recycling should be improved in Ocean Beach. Sunset Cliffs and Ocean Beach Pier typically have the highest counts of aluminum cans and glass bottles – recyclables associated with alcohol consumption.

San Diego has an astounding trash problem –a fact evident when data from Coastkeeper and Surfrider cleanups as well as information from other organizations and major events, including Coastal Cleanup Day, Creek to Bay and the 4th of July Morning After Mess, were combined in 2010.

overall-cleanups-2010The total number of volunteers and total pounds of trash collected from San Diego’s beaches by other Coastkeeper beach cleanup programs (such as Beach Cleanup in a Box and Sponsored Beach Cleanups) and other San Diego environmental organizations. This data is from 2010.











If you want to read more, download our 2011 beach cleanup data analysis one pager.

Slideshow photo credits include NOAA and Andre Lima.

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Fishable Facts

  • Kelp forests play home to more than 700 species of marine creatures.
  • Many factors including pollution, climate change, and over-fishing contribute to kelp forest decline, and their collective impact is far greater than any individual stressor.
  • Research has shown that grazing by inflated sea urchins populations damaged kelp forests and slowed recovery in the '50s to '70s off Point Loma. Sea otters, lobster, and sheephead fish are important predators, keeping urchin populations in check.
  • Many fish off California's coast are in such decline that some species will take 50-80 years to recover to healthy levels.
  • La Jolla's lush kelp forest is like a stand of underwater redwoods – it provides food and shelter for hundreds of species, from tiny invertebrates to fish, mammals and birds.
  • Since 1990, revenues from commercial fishing have declined by more than half and the number of fishing boats calling at California ports has declined by nearly three-quarters.
  • Average size across a wide range of West Coast fish is down by half from 20 years ago.
  • A 40-cm bocaccio rockfish produces an average of just over 200,000 eggs per year, whereas an 80-cm fish at double the length produces nearly 10 times as many eggs (2 million)!
  • Nearly 80 percent of marine debris comes from land-based sources.
  • Regardless of their size, plastic pollution bits are not digestible by any creature.
  • More than 60 percent of all marine debris is plastic.
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