Guest Author – Jackson Confer
All Photos Courtesy of Surfrider Club
The beaches of Northern California are the beaches that I’ve grown up on, and I never realized exactly how polluted they were until I took part in a recent beach cleanup though the Global Leaders branch and the Surfrider club at my high school. While it may not look too bad at first glance, the amount of garbage that my peers and I found on and around Linda Mar Beach in Pacifica completely took us by surprise. There was litter of all kinds in every nook and cranny of the sand and cement, and just the number of cigarette butts we found alone astonished me. We collected almost 1000 cigarette butts in under an hour; just a couple of weeks after a different cleanup crew had swept though the exact area that we did. Bottle caps, plastic shards, six-pack rings, and just about everything else a fish or bird could swallow or get stuck in was in abundance there.
I was told by many a field trip tour guide to “leave no trace” or “leave only footprints” in elementary and middle school, and I always cheered on people who took action from afar, but the moment we all regrouped after about an hour and put all of our trash in one bag did it really hit me; “We’re killing the earth and I’ve spent 17 years on this planet doing nothing about it”.
The second half of the day we spent helping remove invasive plants from the dunes to not only help reintroduce the original vegetation, but restart the entire ecosystem that was destroyed by ice plant and wild radishes. Another hour later, and the hillside was almost barren except for a few strays and the piles of weeds that were to be repurposed for mulch. It was 70° in February, most of us had dressed for fog and cold, but it felt good. We were redeeming ourselves for keeping a blind eye for so long.
At the end of our time on the hillside, our guides recited to us a pledge, called the “Bee Hero Pledge”, which really summed up the entire experience for me. The pledge covered everything from reducing use of plastic to respecting existing ecosystems, and it left a mark on me. I grew up swimming on the beaches of Santa Cruz and Pacifica, walking on trails through the wetlands in the South Bay, and taking hikes in Portola Valley and Woodside, and while I’d always notice how beautiful the views were, I was blind to see the pollution my feet or between my toes in the sand. Once I looked away from the immense cliffs and the mesmerizing waves and actually focused on what would wash into the sea did the bigger picture really get to me. For the sake of the seagull that just sees an orange bug-sized cylinder to the whale that takes in plastic bags and pocket combs alongside the krill it needs to live, watch where you put your waste. Because we’re not alone on this planet, and as the great conservationist Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children”