A record number of volunteers scoured beaches, creeks, parks and streets around Los Angeles County to collect a record amount of trash during a regional clean-up effort Saturday, September 19th.

Prepared to get their hands dirty for the sake of the environment on the annual Coastal Cleanup Day, the volunteers grabbed their garbage bags and searched wherever they could to find where a piece of trash may be hiding. And find trash they most certainly did.

The 14,038 participants at 69 sites across the county, from Santa Monica to Dockweiler State Beach in Playa del Rey and Tujunga to Long Beach, picked up a record 150 tons of trash from regional watersheds during the three-hour effort, according to the environmental organization Heal the Bay.

Coastal Cleanup Day was organized in the county by Santa Monica-based Heal the Bay, in partnership with the county Department of Public Works and California Coastal Commission. The regional effort was part of a global volunteer day involving 127 countries in support of cleaning the environment, according to Heal the Bay.

Event organizers were pleased with the new records that were set after having some concerns that the clean-up falling on the weekend of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, could impact participation. The number of volunteers jumped nearly 15 percent from last year, while the amount of debris and recyclables collected rose by 65 percent.

“We were pleasantly surprised to see that we broke all of the records,” said Matthew King, Heal the Bay spokesman. “It seems that people are now more aware of what’s going on in the environment and are more pre-disposed to help out. This day gives them a tangible, hands-on way of doing their part.”

Heal the Bay attributed the increased haul of trash to coordinated efforts with public works agencies to remove heavy and bulky items from more urbanized sites and debris-filled waterways. The organization credits the rise in participants to improved outreach by media agencies in inland areas and more people willing to get involved.

While the record tons of trash cleared is significant, the clean-up day is mainly aimed at educating people about where the trash is coming from and how to prevent it from entering the waterways, King noted.

“It’s absolutely fantastic that we removed so many tons of trash out of the watersheds, but the biggest thing going on is education. The power of the day is education,” King said.

A vast majority of local ocean pollution is the result of urban runoff from storm drains flowing into the bay, according to Heal the Bay. Removing the debris from beaches and inland communities can help enhance the public’s quality of life and protect marine mammals, the agency says.

Communities around Santa Monica Bay were among those that there were well represented with helpers. Dockweiler Beach led the way with 732 volunteers and 2,750 pounds of trash collected, while the Toes Beach area of Playa del Rey had 498 volunteers and 796 pounds of trash and three beach sites in Venice had 412 volunteers and 308 pounds of trash.

The Santa Monica search area was divided into five beach sites, where 1,600 helpers gathered 830 pounds of trash. Among those groups involved was Santa Monica High School’s Team Marine, which also held a “Ban the Bag” march September 18th to raise awareness about the environmental and health effects of single-use plastic bags and bottles.

More than 50 Santa Monica High students joined in the coastal clean-up event, where Team Marine captain Megan Kilroy was recognized by Nickelodeon for her leadership, Team Marine advisor Benjamin Kay said.

“Her success is owed to her contagious enthusiasm to save the planet and her very friendly and modest nature,” Kay said of Kilroy.

The Friends of Ballona Wetlands helped lead a clean-up with over 200 participants at the wetlands. Those involved cleaned up about 400 pounds of trash near the Ballona Creek, removed ice plant and non-native grasses from dunes, picked up palm fronds and removed non-native bushes.

“Volunteers came away feeling tired but satisfied that they helped make the Ballona Wetlands and Santa Monica Bay a cleaner, better place. Their involvement was personal and real,” Friends of Ballona co-executive director Lisa Fimiani said.

At Westminster Park in Venice, 30 volunteers, many from the community, picked up 164 pounds of trash, such as Styrofoam pieces, paper, cardboard pieces, bottle caps, and plastic wrappers, volunteer Terumi Toyoshima said. Cigarette butts and Styrofoam pieces are the most frequently found items at cleanups, Heal the Bay says. Among the most unusual discoveries this year was a dead sea lion at Ballona Creek, the agency said.

King said Heal the Bay is encouraged to see strong representation by members of the local communities.

“It’s really gratifying to see people continue to turn out in our home base,” he said. “Those are huge numbers for us and it’s gratifying to see them lead the way.”

Heal the Bay expects the annual clean-up to continue to grow but welcomes the spirit of participation at other volunteer events planned throughout the year, King said.

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