By: Sherry Lippiatt
Once a month, a group of dedicated, energetic, and fit volunteers heads to Panther Beach in Santa Cruz County, CA for a strenuous beach cleanup with Marine Debris Program partner Save Our Shores. To get down to the beach, volunteers navigate to the bottom of a steep cliff via a rugged trail – typically, they arrive to find the remnants of illegal camping activities. It’s an extreme cleanup, to say the least!
Unfortunately, by not heeding the “Pack It In, Pack It Out” mantra, weekend campers and partiers that come to enjoy the beach aren’t leaving it as clean as when they arrived. The numbers are pretty shocking – in 2014 alone, with support from the NOAA MDP and other sponsors, Save Our Shores volunteers hauled a whopping 5,105 pounds of beer bottles, broken camping equipment, and other debris off the beach and back up the cliffs for proper disposal.
Rachel Kippen, Save Our Shores Program Manager reflected on the project: “For me personally, I think our biggest success with the project was the awareness it created and the continued excitement it generated. When we launched the Panther cleanups, it immediately brought attention to a beloved beach off the beaten path that many people did not realize had a trash issue… We know that a project is successful when we can see a domino effect like the one Panther created. Our volunteers engaged with new volunteers and now we have groups organizing their own outreach and cleanup campaigns at Panther. Whole Foods, UCSC Sea Slugs and even alternative spring break groups are all examples of this and we will work with them through 2015 and beyond!”
The University of California, Santa Cruz “Sea Slugs” group plans to continue cleanups with Save Our Shores. According to Kimberly Marks, UCSC Sea Slug member, “We chose to adopt Panther because we saw how trashed the beach was every weekend in the summer and it felt tragic to a lot of us. We know that many of the people who are abusing the beach by partying and leaving a mess behind are our age, they could even be people we know. That is not what we represent, we care for this beautiful environment and so many members of our club love going to the beach at Panther. People see that we are picking up trash and they thank us. Even though we can feel sad about removing so much waste at Panther, we know the beach needs us and that keeps everyone coming back to help.”
There is no doubt that Panther and other Santa Cruz beaches are in better condition today thanks to the stellar leadership and coordination from Save Our Shores and the support and efforts of their volunteers. There are many sources and pathways for marine debris to make it to the beach, but direct littering and illegal dumping are the most egregious. Whether you’re at the beach, on the water, or on the sidewalk, take responsibility for the waste you create and “leave no trace”.
If you live near Santa Cruz, check out Save Our Shores’ cleanup calendar and sign up to help out!