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Event Recap | Beyond the Surface: Unveiling the Importance of Ocean Cleanups

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Event Recap: 

Beyond the Surface: Unveiling the Importance of Ocean Cleanups

Author: Patrick Gary


On Sunday, April 21st, 2024 I participated in a beach cleanup event organized by the PMI SF Bay Area Chapter’s Green Team in conjunction with the Surfrider Foundation. The Surfrider Foundation is a charitable organization originally founded 40 years ago by a group of surfers seeking to improve the environmental conditions of the beaches and oceans around them. Today, Surfrider’s local chapters have spread to nearly every part of the United States’ coastlines and major bodies of water. Surfider’s primary missions include plastic reduction, ocean protection, beach access improvements, coastal and climate health, and clean water initiatives.




For Earth Day 2024, our local Bay Area Surfrider chapter paired with several organizations, including PMI SFBAC, to bring a large group of people together at Ocean Beach in San Francisco for a cleanup event. I didn’t hear an official count of attendees, but at least a couple of hundred volunteers joined us on a (relatively) sunny Sunday morning to help clean up a large stretch of Ocean Beach. For those who haven’t had a chance to visit, Ocean Beach is on the west side of San Francisco facing the Pacific Ocean. It’s a fairly unadorned sand beach bordered roughly by Fort Funston to the south and Land’s End to the north. I happen to live just about a mile away in San Francisco’s Sunset District, so I consider Ocean Beach an essential and dearly loved part of my neighborhood. I was excited for the opportunity to join everyone else and contribute to making the beach healthier and more beautiful.




After a nice introduction from the Surfrider event team going over their organization’s history, goals, and local advocacy efforts, we were given our tools and some basic guidance on the do’s and don’ts of beach cleanup and trash removal. After that, we were all dispersed onto the sand in groups or singles as we saw fit for a few hours of searching for manmade trash and debris. Armed with our buckets, grabbing tools, and gloves, we all made our way down the beach starting from near Sloat Avenue and heading in the direction of Land’s End.




I quickly got the sense that any major pieces of debris or garbage would be picked up in short order by the larger group of people heading north, so I opted to stay closer to our starting point and to search the same areas already covered by the rest of the participants. Initially I wasn’t finding much, but as I got accustomed to looking at what was present in and under the sand, I started to see the patterns made by un-natural objects stand out more. I also learned what areas merited further investigation, like wads of plant matter or the sand around larger chunks of driftwood. The more I looked, the more I found tiny bits of plastic and foam, and occasionally even larger pieces that were slightly buried. It also quickly became clear that certain kinds of materials were sporadically but widely dispersed throughout the sand, such as a teal foam that seemed like it was everywhere.


It was striking to me that even though these tiny pieces of plastic didn’t amount to much in terms of volume, they were still left behind even after a large group worked specifically to clear this area of manmade materials. Most pieces were less than an inch long, and many were buried just under the surface of the sand or under other objects. This isn’t a mark against the larger team, as they also picked up many bags’ worth of larger materials and trash. They had a measurable impact and greatly cleaned up our wonderful beach. Instead, it’s an indication of how pervasive pollution can be and how we need to be more mindful stewards of our environment. It’s also a sign that we all have a part to play as individuals in preventing and remediating pollution. Every tiny bit helps, precisely because we won’t ever get 100% of what’s out there at any one cleanup event. Protecting our oceans and environment is something that we can all contribute to and which will benefit from our vigilance and work even beyond just Earth Day.




I was only out on the beach for a couple of hours with our team, but I greatly enjoyed it and I hope to participate in similar events in the future. I felt much more connected to our local environment and I was really glad to see the sense of community among all of the participants. It also turns out that once you start looking for trash it’s very hard to stop noticing it! You can expect to see me out there again with my bucket and grabber, and not just at Ocean Beach. Happy Earth Day!



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