(Article by Liz Boatman in The Berkeley Science Review, abridged by TBG. For the full article click here)
This past Saturday, I rose early donned my best work clothes and boots to join eight of my fellow graduate students and two rangers in a morning event that could best be described as “trashy.”
The rangers, from the East Bay Regional Parks District, spent three long hours in the warm morning sunshine recovering trash from the Emervyille Crescent Shoreline, which is a part of the Eastshore State Park network.
This special shoreline cleanup event was organized by the new Community Outdoor Cleanup and Outreach (COCO) project, funded and sponsored by the Graduate Assembly (GA) of UC Berkeley.
The new COCO project is the culmination of a year’s worth of effort on the part of concerned graduate student Dillon Niederhut, the GA delegate from Anthropology, and the GA Community Outreach Workgroup that he was pivotal in founding. This cleanup was COCO’s first event, largely organized by Christopher Klein, the GA delegate from Astronomy.
We cautiously invaded the marshy tidal wetland site under park ranger supervision. We only covered a fraction of the full shoreline — but we also extracted an entire truckload of trash in the process. The majority of the trash was plastic and styrofoam fragments, which are sufficiently low-density to float in the bay water. When tides recede, these fragments become caught in the shore area plants, and over time, massive amounts of trash accumulate. The L-shape of the Emeryville Crescent Shoreline compounds the effect, making the spot particularly adept at catching both bay and storm sewer runoff trash.
Plastic materials are relatively resistant to degradation, and when they wash up on a shoreline, they can remain there for years, often becoming incorporated into the local ecosystem. Many of the items we recovered, however, exhibited some indications of environmental degradation,
such as bleaching or embrittlement. Other items, like aluminized Capri Sun drink pouches or chip bags, had scarcely broken down despite years of exposure.
The Emeryville Crescent Shoreline is home to a variety of animal and plant species, some native and some invasive. Ice plant, in particular, has disastrously invaded not only this shoreline but many California parks to the detriment of local flora. As we worked, geese, gulls, and other shoreline birds happily fed in the low-tide muds, seemingly oblivious to the expanse of anthropogenic pollution that has invaded their home.
Interested in volunteering with the East Bay Regional Parks District? More information can be found here. The East Bay Regional Parks District takes part in the annual Shoreline Cleanup, which is scheduled for September 15 this year. Thousands of Bay Area residents participate in this annual event to help protect our bay shores. Volunteers can also participate in Berkeley’s Adopt-A-Shoreline program in which they devote time to shoreline cleanup on two or more days per year. Alternatively, groups interested in volunteering can do what COCO did and schedule a special shoreline cleanup date with the District. Special cleanup dates are escorted by rangers, who participate side-by-side and make sure the collected waste is removed at the end of the day.
Interested students can subscribe to the project’s listserv here. Keep an eye out for more COCO events next academic year.