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Volunteers remove 150 tons of trash from L.A. County coast

More than 14,000 helpers gather for the annual cleanup day, which is part of a global event. A skull found off Redondo Beach turns out to be artificial.

September 20, 2009|Ruben Vives

More than 14,000 volunteers -- armed with disposable trash bags -- gathered at Los Angeles County beaches, parks and creeks Saturday and removed 150 tons of trash during the region's annual cleanup day.

This year's haul marked a 65% increase from last year's total of 181,000 pounds of refuse, organizers said. In addition, the number of volunteers rose by 15% from last year.

"Volunteers removed a record amount of trash," said Karin Hall, executive director of Heal the Bay. "But the biggest benefit of the day is raising so much awareness about the everyday steps people can take to reduce marine-bound pollution throughout the year."

The event was part of the 25th Annual California Coastal Cleanup Day, organized by Heal the Bay, a nonprofit environmental group, in partnership with the California Coastal Commission and the L.A. County Department of Public Works.

Volunteers spread out Saturday morning at 69 sites from Malibu to Long Beach. Wearing disposable gloves, they removed pounds of trash as they scoured their public areas.

The event was combined with a global effort to clean up coastal beaches. At least 127 countries participated.

Andy Wasif, a member of Yahoo's Green Team, showed up to assist with the cleanup near the Santa Monica Pier.

"You have to start somewhere," Wasif said. "If we start here, by cleaning and making it nice, then maybe others will take note, and they'll start to do the same."

Rene Oliva, 45, of West Covina said the cleanup offered a learning opportunity for his 5-year-old daughter, Angelina, who is not only a Daisy Girl Scout but is also learning about recycling.

At Santa Monica beach, where more than 600 worked, Bita Karr and P.J. Chu moved the sand around as they sat on it, picking out bottle caps, pieces of glass and cigarette butts. "We're actually finding more things this way," Karr said.

The pair said this was their first time at the cleanup operation.

"It's fun," said Karr, 26, of Marina del Rey. "We're spending time together, and we're doing something good that doesn't include shopping. And we're at the beach."

At Santa Monica and Redondo beaches, dozens of scuba divers with the Eco Dive Center and Dive N' Surf scoured the ocean floor for trash.

In Redondo Beach, a diver uncovered what appeared to be a human skull wrapped in a cloth inside a black plastic bag. Local police were called shortly after 10:30 a.m., and authorities cordoned off the area to allow forensic investigators to study the find.

An hour later, they determined that it was artificial. But during the hourlong investigation, the discovery sent shock waves through the volunteers.

"In years past, we found a bridal gown, bowling ball, handguns -- all sorts of crazy items. But never anything close to a human remain," said Matthew King, a spokesman for Heal the Bay.

Cleanup organizers in Redondo Beach said they were relieved when police told them that the skull was not real.

Among other odd items found on Saturday were a severed goat's head in Malibu Lagoon, a urinal along the Dominguez Channel and a fake mustache at Zuma Beach.

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ruben.vives@latimes.com

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