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News and Media

News and Media

By Founder and President Kurt Lieber

A couple of months ago, I was contacted by an educator named Mx. Ash Keen who is a mathematics tutor for LoyalTeach, an organization that provides long-term educational support services on a sliding scale. Ash lives in Lompoc.

Lompoc coastline

Ash had heard about ODA from a fellow math educator –  longtime ODA volunteer Tim Pearson.

Ash told me that about a student who really wanted to get involved somehow in helping the oceans. Her name is Itzel Lopez. Since she is not 18 years old yet we can’t take her out on the boat with us, but after the three of us had a brainstorming session, we came up with the idea of doing a beach cleanup. 

This photo kind of jumps ahead in the story, but here is a picture of me and Ocean Conservationist Itzel.

ODA Founder & President Kurt Lieber with Itzel

One of ODA’s goals has always been to foster a love of the oceans in our young people.  I jumped at the chance to do just that.

Since I don’t live near Lompoc, I suggested that she take a hike along some of the beaches near her and look for any lobster traps that may have washed onto the shores from the big storms we just had here in California.

Two weeks later she reported that she looked at several beaches but didn’t find much of anything to remove.  The three of us had another brainstorming session and I suggested that she look at some places that have a bridge which goes over a river.  I had a hunch about this since we’ve been removing plastics from areas like that for years now.

ODA is concerned about trash in the inland waterways not just because it is a blight there, but because when it rains (and boy has it been raining in Southern California!) the garbage – especially lightweight plastics – float downstream along with the water eventually ending up in the ocean. We need to stop it before it gets there!

Thankfully, Ash recalled a bridge that goes over the Santa Ynez River, along the Cabrillo highway. There was a place where we could have easy access to the riverbed and a small parking lot situated right next to it.

Santa Ynez Riverbed

To the River We Go!

Itzel convinced/coerced (?) three of her friends to go out and help us with the cleanup: Jimena Diaz, Alison Lopez, and Belen Mejia.  We all met in the parking lot at 3:30 on Thursday, June 15th.  Also in attendance were three other people willing to help out.  Irving is a teacher who works with Ash and was there to support the students.  Linda is a school counselor and wanted to offer guidance and support for the young ladies.  Also in attendance was Javier Lopez, Itzel’s father, who drove the girls to our cleanup. Yay, Dad!

New ODA Cleanup crew

Ash had scouted the place before we got there and noticed people living along the riverbanks, on both sides. So, Ash arrived a few minutes early to meet some of them and let them know what we were doing, and that we were not there to mess with their belongings.

The eight of us gathered in the parking lot, and I gave a quick presentation about ODA’s history and activities and why we do what we do to try to clean up this site.  Then everyone grabbed a trash picker and off we went.

We first started removing debris that was scattered on the ground next to the parking lot and along the highway.

ODA's newest cleanup crew picks up litter

As we were doing that some of the people who are living there started asking us about what we were doing.  Once we told them several of them thanked us and told us where there was more to remove.

Cleanup crew starts moving to new location

One guy who was riding his bike near us stopped and talked for a couple of minutes. His name is Lake. He thanked us and then told me about an area where there was a massive pile of debris. It was on the other side of the river, and just a short 200-yard walk over the bridge.

I told all the volunteers that I was going to go have a look, and left them as they continued working the area.  As I walked over the bridge, I got to see the beauty of the river. We were about eight miles from the ocean, but you could see how glorious this site could be, if only there wasn’t so much junk around.

When I got to the other side of the bridge, my heart sank… Here I could see thousands of pounds, if not tons, of debris all throughout the watershed.  It was soul crushing…

Trail to riverbed lined with piles of trash

I quickly walked back to the team and suggested that their time would be better spent where I had just come from.  Instead of picking up one piece here and one piece there, it was all centrally located right next to the bike trail.

Trail to riverbed along roadside

As we were plucking away at these piles, a friendly couple walked by and told us about the site we were working on. Turns out a lady had taken it on herself to haul all this stuff up and out of the river area and placed it next to the road. She contacted the city and told them it was there and easily removed. The city never showed up, and there it sits.

We filled our four-and-a-half huge bags and five buckets quickly, set them up on the road, and headed back to the parking lot.  There was no way we were going to make a significant dent in all that debris this time out.

I drove my car back onto the highway, loaded all the stuff into my car to properly dispose of it, then headed back to the parking lot where we took the group shots. 

Excite to do the cleanup - the ODA crew poses with Catch of the Day

We were all a little stunned at what we just saw but agreed to give it another try as soon as possible.

I reached out to the city of Lompoc to see if we can get them to put some dumpsters on the site for our next cleanup. Hopefully, we can get more volunteers too.  Quite a few of the people who live there said they would help out. I hope we can make it happen; we don’t want all that debris getting into the ocean when the next rains hit!

If you’re interested in helping us when we go back to remove more of the trash, please email us at