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News and Media

News and Media

By Founder and President Kurt Lieber

After months of heavy rains here in California, all the plastics and trash that accumulate on our streets and highways made a mess of our waterways. 

ODA volunteers have been cleaning up the wetlands of the Seal Beach National Wildlife Refuge (SBNWR) for years, but recently we were prevented from getting into the site due to the inclement weather.

Dedicated volunteers pick up rubbish in bird sanctuary

After four months of being thwarted from our efforts we FINALLY got a break and six of us showed up on May 1st to resume our “first Wednesday of the month SBNWR cleanup.”  It was a fairly overcast day when we arrived at 9am, but soon the sun was shining.

Volunteers Dave and Jean Merrill, Kent Morris, Linda Nicholes, Karla Reinhardt, and I tirelessly worked for three hours removing all types of plastics that had washed into the wetlands via a drainage system that funnels rainwater through a series of concrete canals throughout Orange County. These precious wetlands represent just 10% of the wetlands that used to be found in California. 

Our cleanup crews remove debris from inland waterways

So, while we humans are giving these migrating birds and fish little in the way of natural habitat, we’re also dumping thousands and thousands of pounds of toxic debris into what little habitat remains for them.

To minimize this as much as we could, we grabbed our trash pickers, buckets and bags, and started where we left off last December, along the edge of a huge expanse of wetlands that acts as a kind of filter for the plastics. There are acres of marsh grass here that the fish thrive in, and the birds get to refuel by catching and eating those fish.

news 2024 05 17 11 Debris in wetlands 1 PS LR wm

But unfortunately, the birds also eat the plastics that pollute their waters.  I’ve seen birds pecking away at even very small pieces of Styrofoam because, to the birds, each piece looks like a mass of fish eggs. Not only are those bits filled with toxic chemicals, but they also fill up the birds’ stomachs and they stop eating because they feel full. Sadly, many birds either starve to death or succumb to the poisons that get released into their bodies.

The shapes and sizes of all the garbage is just staggering. Even though plastic bags have been banned for several years in California, we’re still seeing them all over the place. Some of them are relatively new, but some are also very old to the point that when you try to pick up the bag, it breaks up into dozens of pieces. It’s frustrating trying to grab all the little pieces!

Another thing that drives us Refuge Cleaners nuts, is the screw on bottle caps. You’d think that we’d find an equal amount of water bottles, but that ratio seems to be 20 to 1.  Twenty caps for each bottle we find.  Where did those bottles go?

Bottle caps and all kinds of little pieces of trash

At 11:30am, we started wrapping up and posed for a group shot before we loaded all the loot into a truck that hauled the day’s catch to a dumpster. In all, I estimate that we removed 450 pounds of plastic, plus part of a sofa.

These wetlands are 964 acres in size, and are critical habitat for some endangered species, like the California least tern. We feel an obligation to help them along their path to recovery. Please let us know if you’d like to participate in some of our monthly cleanups (on the first Wednesday of each month).

ODA Crew with Catch of the Day

The SBNWR is surrounded by a military base. In order to volunteer here, you have to be approved by the military, so there is a form to fill out. If approved, they’ll then issue a pass that will allow you onto the base. It’s not as easy as just showing up when you feel like it, but as you can see, the results can be very rewarding!

Please email us if you'd like to apply!