Photograph by Mila King
Thirty-five Berkeley High School (BHS) AP Environmental Science (APES) students joined volunteers from around the Bay Area to participate in a shoreline cleanup on Saturday, September 15, as part of the annual California Coastal Cleanup Day, where tens of thousands of Californians help clean up shorelines all over the state. Volunteers of all ages spent about three hours cleaning up trash from the nearby shoreline. On last year’s Coastal Cleanup day, 1,150 volunteers in Berkeley, Albany, and Emeryville picked up a total of 3,761 pounds of trash.
The BHS students met at the Berkeley Animal Shelter at the bottom of Aquatic Park and were responsible for cleaning up the surrounding area. The students were led by BHS APES teacher, Louise Harm. “Volunteerism is vital to help kids see that they can do work to make change,” said Harm. “It is also necessary so that students can connect the learning they are doing in class to what is actually taking place in our own community.”
APES students are required to complete three hours of outdoor community service per semester, and while many participated in this event to meet that requirement, some students were happy to be spending their time outside helping the environment.
“In high school, we need to learn the importance of helping the world around us,” said BHS junior Cela Parker. “I like when stuff like this is required because then it gets students outside.”
When they gathered, the students first received a safety talk where they were made aware of some of the dangers. They were instructed to not pick up needles, as they are both biohazards and sharp objects. They were also reminded to pick up trash only in the designated zones. Students were then instructed to get into groups of four. Each group received a data collection sheet, where they recorded how much of each type of trash they picked up.
The California Coastal Commission, which organizes the event each year, uses this data to get a better understanding of what kinds of trash are found at shorelines. They also present this data to California legislators to guide their decisions in environmental policy.
Since the event, 75 percent of the California cleanup groups – who cleaned shorelines from Mexico up to Oregon – reported over 53,000 volunteers. They reported that these volunteers picked up around 699,000 pounds of garbage and approximately 35,000 of recycling for a total of 367 tons of materials, according to the California Coastal Commission.
After hearing the safety talk and receiving their gloves and plastic bags, students walked along the shoreline next to I-80 and began picking up trash, using trash pickers to get garbage in hard to reach places, such as under tree roots or behind bushes. Many expressed surprised by how much trash there was, and by how quickly their bags were filling up. Harm explained that by having this first hand experience, students can understand the ways in which trash impacts the environment.
This is the 34th annual California Coastal Cleanup day, which began in 1985, in an effort to both clean up the beach and encourage members of the community to work together to keep the oceans healthy.
According to Harm, projects like this allow people to see and understand different issues that affect their communities. “Many of [my students] commented on both the amounts of trash and the kinds of trash they were picking up, and gained new insight to the issues single use plastics, homelessness, and drug use in our community,” she said.
According to the California Coastal Commission website, marine debris harms both people and wildlife, and costs millions of dollars a year to combat. Animals can get tangled in debris, or mistake it for food and ingest it. Trash on the beach is also potentially dangerous to humans, as many items such as nails, glass, and syringes, can cause physical harm. Additionally, oceans can get contaminated by pathogens and chemicals found in trash.
Students at the cleanup felt that it was the responsibility of community members to keep their shorelines clean. “I really care about the environment,” said Berkeley International High School junior Tessa Jespen. “I think it’s really important for the community to help clean up the area that they got dirty.”