Edible Monterey Bay

Edible Notables: SOS!

Save Our Shores sustains sea life
by cleaning up the coast

Litter collected on a beach cleanup

Dayna Zimmerman. Photos by Rob Fisher

When Dayna Zimmermann moved to Argentina to focus on the tango, the local dancer found herself tripping over the “massive amounts” of refuse littering the streets. Compelled to start a program to teach kids about trash composting and up-cycling—the process of converting waste materials or useless things into new products—she found herself dancing in circles in a culture that had no infrastructure for recycling or commitment to conservation. Ultimately, she returned to her native Santa Cruz and became development coordinator for Save Our Shores (SOS), the Santa Cruz-based nonprofit organization that promotes coastal conservation and clean water throughout our region.

“I studied intercultural communications in college,” says Zimmerman, “but I would read about environmental issues at night and then lie awake, grinding my teeth trying to figure out how to clean things up and save the world. I decided to come home and make a difference here. SOS was developed by a bunch of [local people] who didn’t want what was happening with oil drilling in the coastal waters of Santa Barbara to happen here. The reason we have such a diverse sea life population in the Monterey Bay is because we don’t have drilling.”

After starting as a grassroots movement in 1978, SOS helped win the creation in 1992 of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, which protects the coastline from Cambria to Marin from oil drilling, overfishing and other harm.

SOS’s own reach goes from Half Moon Bay to Big Sur, where each year it coordinates about 250 ocean cleanups and gives an equal amount of presentations on ocean awareness to school children. It also advocates for ocean-friendly policy changes such as bans on plastic bags and single-use plastic products and packaging.

Cleaning the beach

The problem with plastic refuse extends beyond the shore. An all too common example of this is the newborn snapping turtle that swam into a small plastic ring from a gallon plastic milk jug. The turtle’s tiny shell became stuck in the ring, and by the time she had reached adulthood, she was still wearing that belt, which had cinched a 3-inch waist in her 15-inch shell. “Mavis,” a sea turtle that has become a symbol of the trashing of our marine ecosystem, survives with the assistance of a feeding tube. But countless other sea birds, fish and animals continue to die after becoming snared in plastics or ingesting them after mistaking them for food.

As a preventive measure, in 2007, SOS created Annual Coastal Cleanup Day. Some 3,100 volunteers, dispatched to 39 sites in Santa Cruz County, collected more than 10,000 pounds of trash from beaches and rivers, kelp beds and under the Santa Cruz Wharf.

The coastal cleanups continue. On a spring morning on Carmel Beach, Pacific Grove residents Karen and Mike Gunby came out for a morning coastal cleanse, which prevented 88 pounds of trash and 18 pounds of recycling from polluting Monterey Bay. After going through an 8-week training program, at which the Gunbys learned the “good, the bad and the ugly” about the state of our oceans and coastlines, the couple became certified SOS stewards— local leaders in citizen conservation focused on ocean awareness, pollution prevention and clean boating.

“I walk the beach and pick up 3 to 4 pounds of trash every day,” says Karen. “Cigarette butts are the worst because they’re toxic and don’t disintegrate. Fish eat them, and whatever our fish are eating, we’re eating. Ironically, people come to enjoy the beauty of this area and then trash it.” Volunteer Mara Awerbuck, 17, who graduated from York School this spring, started attending beach cleanups to fulfill a school volunteer service requirement but discovered other rewards of the work. “I like participating in the beach cleanup; it’s a calming thing to do in a beautiful setting,” says Awerbuck. “I usually drag my younger brother out with me; it creates a bonding experience, and it’s often our only time to really talk.”

SOS steward Sarah de Villa, a graduating senior in marine sciences at CSU Monterey Bay, is looking to introduce sustainability awareness and practice through children’s programs in her native Salinas.

“You don’t need to live on the coast to be concerned about conservation,” says de Villa. “What goes into our storm drains and agricultural and river runoffs affects our oceans and our community needs to get more committed to recycling and replacing plastics with reusable products. Once it becomes a habit, it can become a way of life.”

Which is exactly why Margaret Collins got involved. Owner of the Kayak Connection of Moss Landing and Santa Cruz for 23 years before she sold it last year, Collins is a longtime conservationist and now, an SOS Board member.

“It’s about hands-on engagement of the community and training volunteers to do beach cleanup. With awareness comes excitement, and people become attached to their community, to their beach,” Collins says. “Once we introduce the conservation issues to their minds, they apply it to their lives.”

Collins is also a Beachkeeper through the SOS Adopt-A-Beach program. Beachkeepers receive special training, cleanup supplies and a uniform to help them conduct cleanups and keep their chosen beach clean. “My beach,” says Collins, “is Twin Lakes State Beach. “I’m very attached to it. In the summertime, with all the fire pits, I could go out every day and pick up hundreds of cigarette butts and trash,” she says.

“Cleanup is important, but citizen awareness and commitment to conservation are even better.”

Lisa Crawford Watson lives with her family on the Monterey Peninsula, where she is a freelance writer and an instructor of writing and journalism at California State University Monterey Bay and Monterey Peninsula College.

GET INVOLVED: For more information about volunteering for SOS, making a donation or sponsoring a beach cleanup, go to www.saveourshores.org.