By Paula White
Water is the lifeblood of the planet and Coastal Cleanup Day is when we “take the pulse” of our Earth to understand the health of our watersheds better. During this year’s Coastal Cleanup Day events, The Watershed Project and Contra Costa County’s network of Coastal Cleanup Day Site Captains engaged over 1,000 volunteers who removed 10,544 pounds and over 3,000 gallons of trash from our watersheds! Thank you!
This year’s cleanups included eight shoreline sites and 10 creek sites. There are some interesting differences between these two types of settings, notably the weight of trash collected per person: 20 pounds at creek sites, and 6 pounds at shoreline sites. Creek settings trap larger items such as tires and clothing, and plastic items such as bottles and plastic bags often fill up with mud and water, weighing them down.
By contrast, small items such as cigarette butts, plastic bottle caps, and straws flow readily through the storm drain system and accumulate on beaches on our shorelines. Constant wave action churns plastic debris into smaller and smaller pieces–a kind of plastic sand. We appreciate the efforts of volunteers who collected and recorded thousands of tiny pieces of plastic—these small particles of plastic cause the most damage to wildlife species that accidentally ingest them. Having data on the most prevalent and harmful kinds of plastic in our waterways has resulted in product bans on plastic bags and styrofoam and changes in product design, notably the shift from plastic straws to compostable straws.
Healthy trash-free creeks promote biodiversity in the watershed, starting with riparian vegetation. You can find creeks using the satellite map view by looking for ribbons of trees snaking through the landscape. A healthy riparian ecosystem provides habitat for the smallest macroinvertebrates, frogs, newts and other amphibians, migratory and large birds of prey, and even river otters! If you’d like to learn more about the wildlife of Grayson Creek, please join this Saturday’s cleanup of Grayson Creek on 10/21/23.
Removing trash from the environment not only protects wildlife it also reduces flooding in our communities. Flooding is a symptom of a blockage in our watersheds’ circulatory system. Storm drains, culverts, and outfalls that are clogged with trash prevent rainwater from flowing through creeks and into the Bay. Flood waters can cause traffic delays and even damage homes. This year The City of Richmond has begun restoring Rheem Creek, which has been plagued with flooding for many years. Stay tuned for details about this exciting project and opportunities to get involved with native plant restoration, trash cleanups, and water quality monitoring events.