By President and Founder Kurt Lieber
After months of eagerly anticipating our chance to get inside an estuary that Ocean Defenders Alliance (ODA) has been eyeing for years, our applications were finally approved and we gained permission to work with the staff at the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge (SBNWR) in Orange County, California!
ODA is truly honored to receive this special access. We've been cleaning an adjacent area for years knowing there was 965 acres nearby that was certainly getting hit with the same trash and we really wanted to clean it as well. Not only is it important for the wildlife that call this place home, but it's vital to remove as much debris as possible from inland areas before it's carried out to sea.
Mac Purvin is the manager of the SBNWR and leads shore-based cleanups of the area. One of the challenges is that the refuge is surrounded by a military base, the Seal Beach Naval Weapons Base.
In order to be allowed into the refuge you have to get special passes to get through the military gates. Fortunately, Mac has a good working relationship with the military there and had us fill out some forms that allowed the authorities to check our volunteers’ background to make sure we don’t pose a security risk.
We had 15 people fill out the forms and submit them. Once everyone was approved, we made arrangements to meet Mac on site and go through an orientation to let us know the do’s and don’ts while on the base.
Because our first meeting was during the week, most people couldn’t make it due to scheduling issues, but six of us did attend.
ODA volunteers on this momentous occasion were: Sam Lopez, Kent Morris, Dave Merrill, Jean Merrill, and Timothy Pearson.
We met up at 10 am and drove our cars onto the base. Mac told us the layout of the land; where we could go and where we couldn’t. This estuary is huge – 965 acres! Once our briefing was over, we drove our cars to an area that needed cleaning and proceeded to get to work.
We grabbed our trash pickers, buckets, and gloves and hiked down a small embankment to the water’s edge. What we saw was thousands of pieces of (mostly) plastic. When the grasses degrade and die, they form an organic carpet that floats on top of the water. As the tides come in and recede, the water delivers all the detritus from our cities and streets. All that stuff becomes enmeshed in the grass and creates a toxic mess for all the organisms that need a healthy ecosystem to live in. Several species of endangered birds nest here, and we want to do all we can to make sure they aren’t impacted by all the toxins that make-up plastics.
Looking out over this huge area, the most prominent feature was some tall plants the jut up about three feet out of the water. Acres and acres of it. This is where the fish and birds come to feed, nest, raise their young and rest.
As we were pulling up the trash, we saw several great blue herons, great white herons (which are rare to see), and a gorgeous red-tailed hawk. We could hear birds all around us, but because we had limited time, we didn’t want to distract ourselves to enjoy the views.
Next time, I'll be sure to take more photos, but I was very focused on having a successful first cleanup!
We stopped at noon and hauled our “Catch of the Day” back to a dumpster.
In all, we filled 11 bags to the brim with trash, estimated at 450 pounds. Our photo doesn’t show us with all the bags because Mac kept meeting up with us and picking up our filled bags and other larger items we found which included several plastic totes, broken pieces of tote lids, several pieces of carpet, baby highchair, plastic food trays, five-gallon buckets, a waterlogged foam mattress, and a couple of wooden pallets
It sure felt good to look back at the area we cleaned as we were leaving. The area was roughly 30 feet wide by 200 feet long. A tiny fraction of the entire estuary, but it’s a start!
We plan on doing this once a month in the future. If you’re interested in helping us with this effort, contact us and we’ll send you the paperwork to get the process started.