Nonprofit organization Save Our Shores held close to 400 beach clean-ups last year in Monterey Bay alone, preventing 79,000 pounds of trash and recycling from entering the ocean.
This year members expect similar results from their volunteer program, the steward/docent training program, which kicks off on Feb. 23 and continues through April.
After the prospective stewards/docents finish their training in subjects like marine conservancy and marine life, they are required to complete 50 hours of volunteer work by December.
Volunteer work generally includes hosting beach and river clean-ups, quantifying trash, and educating community members about their impact on marine life.
“We’re really looking for leaders and people that can represent Save Our Shores in a professional way,” said Kate Purcell, the program’s volunteer coordinator. “We’re looking for mature professionals.”
The class and training program meets weekly to hear lectures on subjects like Monterey Bay habitats and pollution prevention.
Steve Pleich, a graduate of the steward/docent volunteer program, supports the program’s goals for a healthier ocean and intends to work with Save Our Shores for many years to come.
“Every day that you do something for Save Our Shores is a day that the marine sanctuary is protected,” Pleich said.
Save Our Shores was founded 31 years ago and has been hosting its steward/docent volunteer program for the past 15 years. The organization has held monthly beach clean-ups since its founding, and encourages the public and the university to participate. It also offers for-credit internships to college students.
“There aren’t a lot of other opportunities that allow people to get connected very physically doing community service or volunteer work,” Purcell said. “Not only are we educating people, we are also engaging them in a solution.”
Besides their monthly scheduled clean-ups, volunteers also educate in classrooms and at special events, including the city’s Independence Day celebration. Volunteers who graduate from the program can look forward to helping out on the biggest clean-up of the year.
“It’s a really emotionally charged day because the beaches are just piled high with trash,” Purcell said.
The stewards and docents spend all day on July 4 walking around the beach handing out bags and encouraging people to pack their trash. They spend July 5 collecting the trash that was left behind. For marine life and ocean livelihood, this is very important.
“They not only collect, they quantify what kind of trash is being collected,” said Steve Lonhart, senior scientist and researcher for the marine sanctuary in Santa Cruz. “So if you’re getting lots and lots of one kind of debris, then you inform the public about that and ultimately it brings around a change in practice.”
Lonhart said the main animals affected by the mass quantities of trash being dumped into the ocean are birds that mistake shiny plastics for krill, and turtles that mistake trash bags for jellyfish.
But it’s not just plastic that’s being collected. In fact, cigarette butts are the most prevalent type of marine debris found at beach clean-ups by Save Our Shores stewards.
“Any effort to reduce the input of foreign material into the ocean is a good thing,” Lonhart said. “If they didn’t do it, all that material they collect … doesn’t degrade very readily. That can have very dire consequences for the birds and turtles.”
And most stewards like Martel Anderson, who is a graduate of the 2009 class, are very dedicated to ocean conservancy. Last year for her birthday, Anderson wrote to all her friends and family, asking them to donate to Save Our Shores instead of buying her gifts. That charitable act alone raised almost $600 for the program.
“Most of us have the ocean on our list of things to be thankful for,” Purcell said, “but Save Our Shores offers people the next step to give back.”