As summer begins and Isla Vista beaches teem with students, dissatisfaction with the heaping amounts of trash left behind has put one UCSB student on garbage duty.
Desmond Sandy, a fourth year English major, has collected an estimated 1,500 pounds of beach refuse since he began regular sweeps in early April. Appalled by the state of I.V. beaches after days of heavy usage, Sandy said he could not sit by idly and watch the garbage flow into the sea.
“It needs to be done,” Sandy said. “We live in a really incredible place and I’m disgusted by the trash.”
His cleanup efforts were particularly visible for residents of the 6500 block of Del Playa Drive after I.V.’s second Floatopia on May 10. In a clear statement to revelers, Sandy assembled a demonstrative pile of garbage in front of a beach access, composed only of the trash he had collected from the shore below.
“I lined up the bags on the sidewalk, and I wrote ‘Floatopia’ and then I wrote ‘Think’ below,” Sandy said.
The mound included 20 bags of trash ─ each weighing between 12 and 20 pounds ─ filled with cans, bottles, and other beachside debris. Rafts, tables, and clothes also contributed to the size of the mound, which Sandy said was merely a sample of the trash he has disposed of on a regular basis.
Santa Barbara County Parks Dept. Deputy Director Erik Axelson said the County recognizes the sharp increase of beach refuse as summer grows nearer and beach activities become popular. According to Axelson, organized cleanup projects have been one valuable tool in combating the surge in beach and ocean pollution.
“Our agency, the Parks Department, works with volunteer groups throughout the area who put together beach cleanup projects,” Axelson said. “The last couple months have been key periods to do that.”
Axelson added, however, that due to budget constraints, the county has not been as vigilant as necessary in maintaining a trash-free beachfront. Individual effort on the part of local residents is integral to the maintenance of healthy beaches across the county, he said.
“The involvement of individuals is a tremendous resource for county parks and all of the agencies that have a role in preserving and sustaining our beaches,” Axelson said. “With our budget, we can’t be there all the time ─ the involvement of volunteers and organized groups helps us expand our reach.”
Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, a non-profit environmental organization, also relies on individual volunteers for its quarterly beach cleanups. Kira Redmond, Executive Director of Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, said that UCSB students are particularly educated and active in preventing environmental damage to their beaches and waterways.
“It seems like especially UCSB students are aware of threats and want to help clean up local beaches,” Redmond said. “We could always use more awareness, but I’d say the level of awareness is relatively high.”
Redmond emphasized the importance of individual environmental consciousness, not only in restoring the beachfront, but also preventing pollution in tributaries that may eventually reach the ocean and harm both animal and human life.
“We face a lot of threats from different sources of pollution,” Redmond said. “Effort from every individual is important, not just in cleanup, but in everyday activities.”
Despite local levels of consciousness, Sandy said he had been confronted several times with environmental disrespect.
“I was picking up trash one day and a guy threw a can off his roof and it landed right where I was,” Sandy said. “I just put my arms up like ‘What are you doing?'”
Sandy said his cleanup effort stemmed from an appreciation of the environment in which he has the privilege to study. He hopes his actions would be seen as a model for other students.
“I’m trying to create an example of what one person is capable of, and I enjoy it,” Sandy said. “People just have a complete disregard for a lot of things around here.”
Axelson said he was impressed by the level of Sandy’s dedication and said that he considered local volunteers an essential part of the county’s cleanup efforts.
“Absolutely, I’d love to meet [Desmond],” Axelson said. “We’d love to work with volunteers like Desmond and the hundreds of people of all ages who organize themselves to clean up our beaches.”