A small army of ecology-minded volunteers collected more than three tons of trash from Ventura County beaches and inland waterways Saturday.
About three dozen sites from La Conchita to Leo Carrillo State Beach near the Los Angles County line were chosen for cleanup efforts during the 11th annual California Coastal Cleanup Day. Waterways in Thousand Oaks, Newbury Park and Santa Paula also were cleaned.
"It's surprising. I didn't think I would see as much [debris] as I did," said Elizabeth Callender, 47, of Camarillo, who helped pick up trash at Surfers Knoll near Ventura Harbor Village. "It's a shame we have to worry about stuff like this."
The cleanup troops totaled 1,057 and included Boy Scouts and senior citizens. They began gathering at their respective sites around 9 a.m. and continued working until about noon.
Toiling under a clear sky and warm sun, volunteers combed area beaches, filling two kinds of large plastic bags--blue for trash and aqua for recyclables.
As they plodded along, workers kept a close count of what was harvested from the sands. The idea, ultimately, was to record every cigarette butt, bottle cap, milk carton, soda can, diaper--anything--and keep a running tally on a "cleanup data card."
"This has been kind of an eye-opener," said Nic Gaffuri, 18, a senior at Camarillo High School. Gaffuri and schoolmate Wade Malesich, 18, volunteered at Surfers Knoll to earn extra credit for their oceanography class. "You don't really know this junk is here until you look for it. It's everywhere."
Reed Smith, 65, and a member of the local Audubon Society, went looking for bits of Styrofoam and other refuse at the estuary near the Harbor Boulevard bridge. He found lots of it.
"This area is great for bird life," Smith said. "It needs to be cleaned up and protected. The birds will eat particles of this stuff or become ensnared in plastic. It endangers their lives."
Aesthetics and reducing dangers to wildlife are only some of the benefits of the cleanup effort, said Jack Liebster, director of public affairs for the California Coastal Commission, the event organizer.
"The real purpose behind this is we want people to be aware of the problem and aware of the fact that it is so easy to solve," he said. "This is not rocket science. The problem was started by people, and it can be solved by people."
About 500 miles of coastline from the Oregon border to Baja were cleaned with the help of an estimated 40,000 volunteers, Liebster said. In all, about 35,000 pounds of recyclables and 350,000 pounds of trash were collected statewide.
In Ventura County, workers collected about 2,000 pounds of recyclables and more than 5,000 pounds of trash, according to the Surfrider Foundation, which coordinated efforts locally.
Totals for this year were well below last year, when about 1,400 volunteers collected 31,000 pounds of trash and recyclables countywide.
Brian Brennen, president of the local Surfrider Foundation, thinks that less trash was collected because the beaches just weren't as dirty as last year.
"The cities have really tried to keep their beaches clean because of tourism," he said.
Saturday's total would have been a few pounds less had it not been for a group of 13-year-old girls from the Loma Vista 4-H Club. Volunteering at Harbor Cove near the Channel Islands National Park Visitor Center, the girls took it upon themselves to retrieve four car tires from the breaking surf.
Soaking wet after their triumph, the girls sat at the visitor center, laughing about their experience.
"The last thing I wanted was to come out here and get nailed by a wave," said Kelly Bristol of Oxnard.
Answered her friend Andrea Grapes, also of Oxnard: "Just think, you helped the environment and nobody is going to get conked on the head by those tires."