Heal the Bay Blog

Category: Coastal Cleanup Day

Participating in our biggest volunteer event is guaranteed to lift your spirits, writes aquarium staffer and veteran organizer Randi Parent.

This will be my 13th year as a Heal the Bay staff member rolling up my sleeves to organize our biggest volunteer event of the year — Coastal Cleanup Day — on Saturday Sept. 16. (I should be logging No. 14, but taking my daughter to college was the priority a few years back.)

It’s a day of big numbers: half a million people around the globe, volunteering to tidy up their favorite park, stream, lake or shoreline. Millions of pounds of debris picked up, documented, bagged and disposed of, all within a few hours on a Saturday morning by folks in 112 countries. Heal the Bay has historically organized coastal and inland sites in L.A. County, welcoming up to 20,000 volunteers spread out at cleanup locations from Malibu to Compton.

I usually help mobilize our biggest site, next to the Santa Monica Pier, where we’ve sent more than 2,000 people out along the beach. But I’ve also assisted at much smaller inland cleanups, where the power of a few community groups spreading out along a concrete-lined riverbed makes everyone feel mighty, as they weigh their garbage haul at the end of the morning.

For this year’s event – which runs from 9 a.m. to noon – it’s exciting to hear we’ll be including several locations around the county where active wetlands restoration is in progress.

Volunteers are removing invasive plants that choke waterways and they’re removing the trash that accumulates in the overgrowth too – a win-win for the native plants and animals that depend on these riparian habitats for their survival. These sites – LAX Dunes and Ballona Wetlands Ecological Reserve in Playa del Rey, Medea Creek in Agoura Hills and Alta Vicente Reserve in Rancho Palos Verde — all offer an opportunity to become involved with an ongoing restoration project.

But no matter the size, scope or location of the cleanup, there’s been one constant in my 13 Coastal Cleanup Days with Heal the Bay: the genuine feeling of satisfaction and connection I receive after spending a morning with community members, school groups, families and individuals who really care. In a world full of dysfunction and strife, we gather for a simple task that makes a world of difference. On one Saturday in September, we can all make a small corner of this planet that much cleaner and healthier. It may sound corny, but it’s a very powerful moment.

I look forward to meeting you at the Pier cleanup site this year. But there are many more to choose from! Please register today.

Sept. 17, 2016 — There are 8 million stories in the trashy city on Coastal Cleanup Day. Here is one of them from Heal the Bay’s communications director, Matthew King.

Heading down PCH to infamous Lunada Bay this morning, I really didn’t know what to expect.

To Southern California surfers, this idyllic cove in Palos Verdes Estates is infamous for being home to the Bay Boys, a group of largely middle-aged locals accused of using vigilante-like tactics to scare away visitors. These self-appointed regulators sit on the bluffs and regularly block access to the beach, according to a recently filed federal class-action lawsuit, all in the name of keeping some of L.A.’s best waves to themselves.

After years of hosting cleanups up and down the Palos Verdes Estates, Heal the Bay decided to host a site at Lunada Bay in concert with city staff for this year’s Coastal Cleanup Day. Leading up to the cleanup, I hadn’t given the site much thought. Then I received a few media enquiries asking about the Bay Boys and if we expected any trouble or were taking any safety precautions.

It all seemed a bit alarmist to me. But I do have some family history at Lunada Bay that gave me some pause. Last fall, my high school son and his friends – unbeknownst to me – decided to hike down to the cove to watch the sunset. They came back to find the tires slashed on their car.

Channeling the sage words of my colleague Meredith McCarthy, I assured the journalists that cleanups tend to bring out the best in people. We didn’t expect any trouble, I said (and hoped).

As usual, Meredith was right.

Volunteers climbing down to Lunada BayI spent a beautiful morning with about two dozen volunteers at Lunada. The only intimidation I felt this day was figuring out how to navigate the twisting, semi-treacherous path to the beach without falling on my butt. And the only locals I crossed paths with were an adorable group of girls volunteering from Lunada Bay Elementary School across the street. They weren’t too menacing.

The rocky shoreline is thankfully free of the micro-trash that plagues most Southland beaches: cigarette butts and whatnot. The biggest haul came from beer cans and plastic water bottles chucked carelessly from the bluffs. An intrepid group of Palos Verdes High students scurried up the cliffs like billy goats to retrieve trash, while their proud mothers beamed on the beach. The group was part of the Los Hermanos Black club, which organizes volunteer opportunities for mothers and their teen-aged sons.

Including the Lunada volunteers, the Cleanup Day crew in L.A. County totaled 9,556 people at 48 inland and coastal sites. Participants hauled in 29,635 pounds of ocean-bound debris. This year’s group collected nearly 30% more trash in L.A. County than last year’s volunteers. (You can view that as either a positive or negative, I suppose!) Among the items found: a switchblade knife, a flight-deck crew vest from an aircraft carrier, two old TVs, three syringes, nine shopping carts and one human-sized teddy bear on the sands of Long Beach.

A couple of volunteers at Compton CreekOn my way home, I detoured to another one of my favorite sites — Compton Creek, a largely forgotten gem in the necklace of green spaces along the L.A. River.

This tributary is one of the few soft-bottomed portions of the largely channelized L.A. River. A half-mile stretch of lush vegetation sits hard against the Crystal Hotel and Casino, surrounded by concrete and the 91 Freeway. The creek is choked with trash and polluted runoff fouls its waters, but life miraculously thrives here. Turtles scour the muddy bottom, while herons alight in the brush, looking for tiny morsels.

Nearly 100 volunteers donned gloves and trudged through the boggy waters, hauling out a depressing mix of fast-food wrappers, plastic bags and food packaging. To be honest, if I were a volunteer I would view collecting all that trash as a Sisyphean task. I’d wonder if I had made a dent. We could’ve sent 1,000 people to that spot today and we still wouldn’t have been able to remove all the annoying bits of chip bags and Styrofoam containers ground into the creek bank.

Yet participants remain so optimistic. A Filipino service fraternity called Alpha Phi Omega sent a squadron of volunteers to Compton this morning. One gentlemen, with a full bag of trash, smiled broadly as I approached him. Seeing my Heal the Bay T-shirt, he thanked me.

After participating in dozens of cleanups in my tenure here, it’s easy to get blasé sometimes. I wonder what in the world motivates people to get up on their Saturday off and pick up trash for nothing. I know we absolutely cannot function without our volunteers, but his smile reminded me that we give as much as we get by organizing Coastal Cleanup Day. Volunteers leave feeling hopeful, feeling good about themselves and their communities.

Meredith was right … again.

Check out the photos of Coastal Cleanup Day sites all over L.A. on our Flickr album.

And a special thanks to this year’s sponsors: Cancer Treatment Centers of America, City of Culver City, City of Santa Monica, California Coastal Conservancy, Disney, KTLA 5, L.A. County Public Works, and Union Bank!

Sept. 6, 2016 — You’d be surprised what you might find at an HTB cleanup. Come join us Sept. 17 for Coastal Cleanup Day, our biggest volunteer event of the year.

First-time cleanup volunteers sometimes arrive with the expectation that they will spend a few hours removing large items of trash from the sand – used tires, abandoned fishing nets, and whatnot.

But as any cleanup veteran can tell you, the bulk of our work is picking up and removing small items like Styrofoam shards, plastic bottle caps, or cigarette butts. It’s this dinky detritus of our daily lives that most plagues beaches. It can be tedious at times, but removing tiny pieces of trash most helps marine animals, which often mistakenly ingest harmful bits of plastic and other debris.

To give some perspective, Heal the Bay’s Marine Debris Database reveals that our cleanup volunteers have collected more than 450,000 cigarette butts at L.A. County beaches since 1999. If you laid those butts end to end on the ground, they’d easily surpass the height of Mount Everest!

But it’s not all bits and pieces at our cleanups. Every year at Coastal Cleanup Day – our biggest volunteer event of the year – someone discovers something truly remarkable. Here we look back at some of our favorite finds:

Some volunteers found a (model) human skullHUMAN SKULL

In 2009, police were called in when divers at our Redondo Beach cleanup site found what they believed to be a human skull on the seafloor. Authorities quickly cordoned off the beach and brought forensic teams to examine the weathered skull, which was wrapped in plastic. Creepy! Unfortunately – or fortunately – for our amateur “CSI” wannabes, the skull actually turned out to be a very lifelike anatomical model that would be used in a hospital or medical school setting.

Some volunteers have found up to $100THE BENJAMINS

Forget those crazy dudes with the metal detectors. If you want to find the real big-money action, come to one of our cleanups. Last year, the mayor of Agoura Hills found a wallet in Medea Creek that contained a crisp $100 bill. And in 2010, a group of students at a beach cleanup in Santa Monica found one half of a torn $100 bill. Despite frantic digging, they were unable to find the other half. The good news is that banks will replace your damaged bill if it’s more than 50% of original length and the serial numbers are intact.

Evelyn Bravo-Ayala and Olga AyalaTRUE LOVE

Eveline Bravo-Ayala, our former Beach Program Manager, helped organize hundreds of cleanups during her long tenure here. Little did she know that she’d actually discover her wife at a Coastal Day cleanup. In 2007, Evelyn arranged a series of cleanups in the northeast San Fernando Valley with Olga Ayala, a staffer in Tony Cardenas’ City Council office. The two wrestled for control of the events and often butted heads. But from that rocky start, a tentative friendship blossomed into romance and marriage in 2013.

Evelyn Bravo-Ayala and Olga AyalaBURIED TREASURE

We’ve added a special wrinkle this year — volunteers get to search for “buried treasure” as they pick up trash. Lucky treasure hunters will find “golden sea stars” (don’t worry, they’re fake) hidden in the sand and underbrush at five of our coastal and inland sites. Winners can redeem the sea stars for valuable gift certificates from REI, Patagonia, and Amazon.


On Saturday, 9/17, join us at one of 50 locations throughout L.A. County for this year’s Coastal Cleanup Day!


Register Here



We did it, L.A.! More than 11,000 Angelenos removed 24,000 pounds of trash today, September 21, for Coastal Cleanup Day, the largest volunteer day on the planet. 

That amount doesn’t even include the bulky items that the city of Los Angeles will collect, weigh and report!

Volunteers cleaned over 32 miles of local beaches, inland waterways, regional parks and city neighborhoods at 50 cleanup sites throughout Los Angeles County.

This year’s unsolved mystery is the origin of the five clay statues of the Hindu god Ganesha (pictured above) found throughout California, including a pair found near the Malibu Pier at Surfrider beach. 

A “No Swimming, Polluted Water” sign discovered underwater by SCUBA divers at Surfrider is the most ironic found item. The grossest item is a urine sample cup at Will Rogers Beach, while glow-in-the dark vampire teeth found in the Ballona Wetlands is the most Halloween-y.

Volunteers also found a chaise lounge at Cabrillo State Beach in San Pedro that would no doubt go great with the 120 pounds of carpeting found at Dockweiler Beach. 

See more images from today’s cleanup and join us for the next Nothin’ But Sand cleanup of Venice Beach on Oct. 19.

Great work, Los Angeles!

Coastal Cleanup Day 2013
Volunteers protect the waterways of the Ballona Wetlands for the 2013 Coastal Cleanup Day.

“The World’s Largest Volunteer Day” — Coastal Cleanup Day — is tomorrow, September 21! As if keeping our beaches and parks clean isn’t enough, many cleanup sites throughout Los Angeles County will feature amazing promotions for participating volunteers, including free food, yoga classes, stand-up paddleboard lessons and more! You could even win free burritos from Chipotle for a whole year. To find out which cleanup site these awesome promotions will be at, check our list of cleanup sites.

Sign up for Coastal Cleanup Day 2013.

1. Santa Monica Beach, North of the Pier – Start the Day with a free yoga class and peace circle with Naam Yoga at 8:30am. After you help cleaning the beach, you can enjoy a free stand-up paddleboard clinic with Michelob Light, use free admission to the Santa Monica Pier Aquarium, observe the exhilarating Bud Light Dory Race and enter to win a stand-up paddleboard at the beach clean-up and Dory Race.

2. Santa Monica Pier – Bring your recyclables to the Santa Monica Pier and you’ll be entered to win exciting Honest Tea raffle prizes this Coastal Cleanup Day. After the clean-up, join us at Rusty’s Surf Ranch to win a stand-up paddle board at 3pm.

3. Venice Beach Pier & Venice Beach at RoseAbbot Kinney Memorial Library will be celebrating Talk-Like-A-Pirate day a few days late with a Moby Dick screening, food and sea shanties after the cleanup. Celebrate your volunteer service at Venice Ale House with a beer garden and live DJ for the Coastal Cleanup Day after-party.

4. Ways Park (87th Street and McKinley Ave, Los Angeles, CA) – This inland cleanup will focus on neighborhood alleys. Refreshments and lunch will be provided. This cleanup is hosted in partnership with Councilman Curren Price, celebrating the future home of WAYS Park.

5. Will Rogers (15900 Pacific Coast Hwy. at Temescal Canyon Road, Pacific Palisades, CA) – Enjoy a free lunch compliments of Chase Bank for all clean-up volunteers.

Coastal Cleanup Day Los Angeles Dive Site Heal the Bay6. Get ready for the LA City Bag Ban at all sites by earning a free reusable bag at all City of LA clean-up locations.

7. Dockweiler Beach, Tower 55 (11999 Vista del Mar, El Segundo, CA 90293) Yoga Trailblazers hosts a free yoga class south of Tower 55 from 8:30-9:30 am before the cleanup. Bring a yoga mat and wear sunscreen for this beginner class. Veggie Grill will also provide food to keep volunteers energized.

8. Malibu Pier – If you are SCUBA dive certified, this is the site for you. Arrive for the dive at 8am. Prizes will be awarded for the most bizarre items found after the clean-up. Malibu Divers will provide free air fill and half price gear rentals for SCUBA dive volunteers.

9.  Santa Monica Beach, Tower 20 (End of Bay Street, Santa Monica, CA) – By helping clean this historic site, you’ll be entered into a raffle for a custom surfboard.

10. To reward your service protecting our environment from harmful trash, Chipotle is providing free burrito coupons at most clean-up sites in the LA area. Plus, volunteers who take Instagram pictures of their efforts collecting trash tagged #litterati, #chipotlemexicangrill and #coastalcleanupday will automatically be entered into a contest to win free burritos for a year from Chipotle.

Heal the Bay Coastal Cleanup Day Los Angeles

As of this week, Gabrielle Harradine has raised $270 — $70 over her goal — to “help fund the fight” against pollution on Coastal Cleanup Day. Here she details why she’s “friendraising” for Heal the Bay and what she hopes to find on Coastal Cleanup Day.

This coming Coastal Cleanup Day on September 21 will be the first one since we started a family together. We’d done two cleanups with Heal the Bay before we had children. At the earlier cleanups, I remember finding a lot of cigarette butts; followed by small bits of plastic.

Now that my daughter is old enough to be able to really participate and understand what we are doing, I am looking forward to seeing her enthusiasm. She learned about trash in the oceans at Heal the Bay’s Aquarium in Santa Monica, so Coastal Cleanup Day will be a good follow up. 

The response to our fundraising has been exciting and much better than I expected! (Although we do have lots of beach loving friends and family.) A lot of people want to help; it’s just a matter of putting it in front of them so they can respond.

On September 21, I expect to find a group of like-minded people slugging through the sand for any bits of trash. Hopefully, we’ll get to see some thankful breaching dolphins from the shore!

— Gabrielle Harradine

What will YOU find on Coastal Cleanup Day?

Join the biggest volunteer action on the planet, Coastal Cleanup Day, on Saturday, September 21, 2013 from 9 a.m. to noon. Share your personal cleanup discoveries using Twitter, Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #whatwillyoufind. Past volunteers have found love and a hundred dollar bill!

Anyone can create a fundraising page to support the effort to protect our local natural resources. Volunteers who raise $100 or more receive a Heal the Bay T-shirt.

Gabrielle Harradine sails the Bay.

When I started working as Heal the Bay’s Coastal Cleanup Day Manager in 2007, I had no idea that I would end up finding the love of my life. That year, Heal the Bay worked with Councilmember Tony Cardenas’ office on the Northeast San Fernando Valley cleanup sites. I initially started off on the wrong foot with the cleanup captain, Olga. She tried to tell me how to run a cleanup site, but I was certain I knew how to do it better. Olga was concerned with breaking trash-collecting records while I wanted to ensure the best educational and efficient experience for volunteers. A year later, after a very successful cleanup, we started a friendship that led to love. We still laugh about which one of us knows how to do the job better, but I admit that her sites almost always break cleanup records.  So this past week, right before Coastal Cleanup Day, I married her. What will you find at Coastal Cleanup Day? I found love and I couldn’t be happier.

— Eveline Bravo-Ayala,
Heal the Bay’s Beach Program Manager

Join the biggest volunteer day on the planet, Coastal Cleanup Day, on Saturday, September 21, 2013 from 9 a.m. to noon. Tweet, Facebook or Instagram us with the hashtag #whatwillyoufind to share your unique Coastal Cleanup Day discoveries!

Eveline Bravo, middle, with wife Olga Ayala and Congressmember Tony Cardenas.

Be part of the solution to pollution! Join your fellow Angelenos on Coastal Cleanup Day (aka the BIGGEST volunteer day on the planet!) on Saturday, Sept. 21, 2013 from 9 a.m. to noon. This year Heal the Bay will organize more than 60 cleanup locations all over Los Angeles County. A complete list of cleanup sites and more details will be posted on our website later this summer.

In an effort to create more sustainable events, we ask cleanup volunteers to bring their own reusable supplies. All that you need to clean is a bucket to share, one glove to pick up trash and your reusable water bottle to stay hydrated. The more reusable tools you bring to the cleanup, the fewer disposable supplies we waste in this effort.

You can use a lot of different items as a cleanup bucket, such as a sand pail, milk jug, car wash tub, old paint can or even a washable tote bag will do the trick. To be Zero Waste, you just have to get creative.

Last year more than 9000 Angelenos worked together to keep nearly 20 tons of debris from heading to the ocean. Check out more results from last year’s Coastal Cleanup Day.

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Seven years ago, Heal the Bay eliminated single use plastic water bottles from our events in an effort to not generate as much waste or trash as we were picking up at our cleanups.

Now when you join a Heal the Bay cleanup, you can visit the water station to refill your reusable water bottle, or use a 3 oz. paper cup.  This transition away from plastic to alternatives was so successful that we considered reducing or eliminating other waste-producing elements of our cleanups.

So in 2010, Heal the Bay introduced a “zero waste” clean-up idea at a number of Coastal Cleanup Day sites. The “zero waste” cleanup involved eliminating latex gloves and plastic water bottles, and significantly reducing the number of plastic bags used for collecting trash. Instead of latex gloves, Heal the Bay requested that people bring their own, or use one of our cloth gloves. In addition, Heal the Bay provided “painter’s buckets” for participants to place their collected trash. These “zero waste” events became so popular that we co-opted the “B.Y.O.B” acronym to mean “Bring Your Own Bucket”.

Over the last three years, Heal the Bay’s “zero waste” cleanups have been able to substantially reduce the trash generated from producing these cleanups. For example, the we’ve reduced the waste generated at an event from plastic water bottles from 100 12 oz. bottles to two or three gallon-size water bottles. We now use an average of 15 plastic bags, rather than 250; and 50 latex gloves versus 600.

This successful transition has encouraged us to expand our “zero waste” clean-ups beyond Coastal Cleanup Day to our other clean-up programs like Corporate Healers and Nothing But Sand events. In fact, Heal the Bay is striving to make this the “Zero Waste” Clean-up year. HOORAY!

Do you want to party with us in our “nothingness”? Great! You’re invited to celebrate our “Nothingness” and all its glory this Saturday, May 18 from 10 a.m. to Noon at our Nothin’ But Sand beach cleanup at Will Rogers State Beach (at the end of Temescal Canyon Road on PCH). The beautiful venue will be provided — all you have to do is bring yourself, your gloves, and your bucket. See you there!

The most bizarre item found during 2012 Coastal Cleanup Day was a paddleboat in the woods. Yes! You read that right! It sounds like the lead in to a joke, but it’s the item Kentaro Lunn and Garrett Nas-tarin found during their mountain bike cleanup in Malibu Creek State Park. They not only found the boat, but hauled it over rough terrain to an access road where a state park crew could pick it up.

Other unusual finds this year included a hair weave, a rifle barrel found by divers in the water off Redondo Beach Pier (turned over to police), some toilets (including one still boxed), beach chairs, a “No Smoking” sign, and a 25 pound barrel of oil sludge.

Garrett and Kentaro received goody bags from Heal the Bay to thank them for their hard work!

See more photos from Coastal Cleanup Day 2012.

Coastal Cleanup Day 2012: Most Unusual Found Items

Coastal Cleanup Day 2012: They Found What?!