Learning about the environment is just as helpful


River park volunteers Steve Scarano and Doug Niggli load green waste into its proper bin. (c) Tony Cagala

It’s no secret that people want to help protect the environment. San Diego County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price said there’s no other issue that can unite differing politics than the protection of it. Yet, it seems, one of the biggest secrets about the environment is the public’s education to it.

As a reporter, I was sent to cover Coastal Cleanup Day, San Diego’s largest volunteering effort to pick up trash along the beaches and watersheds throughout the county Sept. 17. I had heard of events like this one over my years growing up in San Diego, but like many, I knew nothing about the event or how much maintenance these areas actually needed, or how much trash there really was to pick up.


Nina Gaters plants a small tree. (c) Tony Cagala

At the San Dieguito Lagoon wetlands restoration site in Del Mar, more than 100 volunteers came out with the intent of spending the day doing something good for the environment and getting their “yard-work fix.”

Many of the volunteers I spoke with saw this as a great opportunity to help “beautify” their neighborhood. Some of the younger volunteers like 12-year-old Anna Szymanski knew that the environment was hurting and she wanted to help give back by planting native species at the wetlands site.

Since the wetlands restoration project began in 2006, 150 acres of wetlands have been restored. The project was instated with the hopes that it would offset any impact the ocean-water cooling system of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating station in San Clemente, approximately 40 miles to the north, would have on fish populations. The station’s ocean-water cooling system pumps in ocean water through a series of pipes and uses it to cool and condense steam, which then pushes the turbines to generate electricity.


Howard and her son Jackson do their part during the Coastal Cleanup Day. (c) Tony Cagala

Back at the lagoon, San Dieguito Park Rangers helped educate volunteers on identifying invasive species for removal from around the trails. With only six rangers to monitor over 150 miles of trail that ranges from the mountains to the coast, volunteer efforts like this one are a tremendous help in maintaining these areas, explained Park Ranger Natalie Borchardt.

Just two hours in to the event, volunteers had already removed more than 700 pounds of green waste. In what would have taken Borchardt a week to do on her own, took volunteers no time at all to get the trails in order.

Coastal Cleanup Day may only be one day a year, but as I’ve learned since then, volunteer work is happening every weekend in nearly every ecological system in the county. The Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation, for instance, hosts volunteer trail maintenance every Saturday; they’ve also recently hosted the 6th annual Kayak Cleanup Event, which gives volunteers a rare opportunity to kayak in the Batiquitos Lagoon Preserve while picking up trash along the shoreline. They also offer visitors a chance to learn all about the lagoon and the role it plays in the environment at their nearby Nature Center.

It is a complex world that we live in and distractions abound, but if we really wanted to help protect the environment, we’d first learn all we could about it.


(c) Tony Cagala









Tony Cagala is an assistant editor/reporter for The Coast News and The Rancho Santa Fe News. Read his full story on Coastal Cleanup Day here.