ONE WOMAN’S BEACH CRU­SADE

She pa­trols one stretch of sand in Santa Mon­ica, pho­tograph­ing and weigh­ing the garbage she col­lects.

Los Angeles Times - - Latextra - Tony Bar­boza

On a day when tens of thou­sands of vol­un­teers will de­scend on Cal­i­for­nia’s beaches to cleanse the coast­line of trash and garbage, it will be just an­other day in Sara Bayles’ self-as­signed task of keep­ing the sands spot­less in Santa Mon­ica.

For months, Bayles has scoured her lo­cal beach in search of junk oth­ers have left be­hind. But her vol­un­teer work goes far be­yond just pick­ing up lit­ter.

The 33-year-old as­pir­ing chil­dren’s nov­el­ist col­lects, weighs and pho­to­graphs the plas­tic bot­tles, soda cans, cig­a­rette butts and other de­bris she scoops up in her 20-minute beach cleanups and posts pho­tos and re­ports on a blog called The Daily Ocean.

It’s a painstak­ing, slightly ob­ses­sive way of an­swer­ing a sim­ple ques­tion she posed to her­self: How many pounds of trash could I col­lect from the beach if I did it for one year?

Frus­trated that she could never at­tend or­ga­nized com­mu­nity beach cleanups, such as Satur­day’s Coastal Cleanup Day, Bayles de­cided a year and a half ago to trek the 25 blocks from her home to the beach at Ocean Park and do one her­self.

“I was as­ton­ished by how much crap was on the beach the first time I went,” she said.

So Bayles

Beach,

vowed to spend 365 non-con­sec­u­tive days, 20 min­utes at a time, col­lect­ing trash from the same foot­ball field-sized area of beach near Santa Mon­ica’s Life­guard Tower 26. She would weigh the garbage at the end of each ses­sion, keep a run­ning tally and post pho­to­graphs of the garbage on a blog.

Her blog posts are brief and ar­tis­ti­cally minded, a stark vis­ual cat­a­log of refuse on an ur­ban beach. Most shots fea­ture a jagged piece of garbage stick­ing out of the sand with a life­guard, a scav­eng­ing seag­ull or waves rolling to shore in the back­ground.

More than 156 days along, Bayles has col­lected more than 634 pounds of refuse — heftier “than the world’s heav­i­est sumo wrestler,” she writes.

She ar­rives at sun­set, af­ter crowds have packed up and gone, the sand de­serted ex­cept for the oc­ca­sional run­ner or strolling cou­ple en­joy­ing the fad­ing light.

She straps on her watch and slips on a sin­gle leather glove, a re­us­able plas­tic bag in one hand and a dig­i­tal cam­era in the other.

Garbage, she has found, is a blight so ubiq­ui­tous along Cal­i­for­nia’s coast that even at a pop­u­lar, pic­turesque beach like Santa Mon­ica, it’s never hard to find.

In her lit­ter ses­sions, Bayles comes across both the or­di­nary and the strange: a child’s doll, a rick­ety board with pro­trud­ing nails, sy­ringes, a can of ant-killer.

She has found rem­nants of an en­tire feast: sil­ver­ware, plates and food scraps in­tact. Beach­go­ers — skinny dippers, per­haps — have left com­plete wardrobes. And there is sea­sonal lit­ter like My­lar bal­loons af­ter Valen­tine’s Day.

But usu­ally it’s a pre­dictable smat­ter­ing of plas­tic bags, bot­tles, cig­a­rette butts, paper cups and candy wrap­pers.

“Most of the time it’s just the same bor­ing stuff, which kind of makes me up­set,” she said. “We’re mak­ing things out of a ma­te­rial that lasts hun­dreds of years, but we only use it for a few min­utes.”

If a bird tries to make off with an empty chips bag or cig­a­rette pack, she chases af­ter it.

“I’ve seen a sea gull try to gulp down a plas­tic Bic lighter right in front of me,” she said. “And try tak­ing some­thing away from a seag­ull. You can’t do it.”

At the end of each cleanup ses­sion, Bayles sets a ship­ping scale on the trunk of her car and weighs the day’s take, record­ing it in a small note­book. The av­er­age is 4.9 pounds.

Re­searchers say beach cleanups do lit­tle to counter ocean de­bris. The real prob­lem, they say, is the throw­away cul­ture of to­day’s con­sumers and the fail­ure of cities to do enough to keep waste out of the storm wa­ter sys­tem.

Oth­ers have ap­plauded Bayles ef­forts and the in­spi­ra­tion it has given to her blog read­ers to re­move rub­bish from their own shores.

The con­ser­va­tion group Oceana named Bayles a fi­nal­ist for its Ocean Hero award ear­lier this year and she has spawned sev­eral im­i­ta­tors, in­clud­ing Danielle Richardet, who started col­lect­ing trash and cig­a­rette butts in Wrightsville Beach, N.C., and post­ing the re­sults on her own count

“The fact is, Sara has bro­ken it down into an easy, man­age­able time any­body can go out and do,” Richardet said.

Read­ers from the Great Lakes to the East­ern Seaboard are now weigh­ing the trash they col­lect, snap­ping pho­tos and send­ing Bayles their thoughts. She posts their tal­lies on her blog.

Since her un­der­tak­ing has be­gun, she’s be­come more of an ac­tivist, men­tor­ing a high school ocean stew­ard­ship club and trav­el­ing to Sacra­mento to lobby for a ban of sin­gle-use plas­tic bags. She and her hus­band, a ma­rine bi­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor, plan to join an ex­pe­di­tion that will study a gi­ant vor­tex of garbage float­ing in the South Pa­cific.

For now, her work is not even half­way done. There are hun­dreds of pounds of trash to col­lect, hun­dreds of ocean sun­sets.

Ge­naro Molina

MIS­SION: Sara Bayles col­lects refuse from the beach. Mostly she finds plas­tic bags, bot­tles, cig­a­rette butts, paper cups and candy wrap­pers.

Ge­naro Molina

AC­TIVIST: Bayles, who uses her blog, The Daily Ocean, to doc­u­ment the trash she dis­cov­ers on the beach, also men­tors a high school ocean stew­ard­ship club.

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