Buckets of rubber gloves sit outside the Berkeley Shorebird Nature Center. Credit: Iris Kwok

Volunteers removed more than 2,300 pounds of trash from the Berkeley Marina and 1,000 pounds combined from the Albany and Emeryville shorelines Saturday during the 38th annual California Coastal Cleanup Day. 

Thomas Mueller holds the Ganesha idol he found during the 2022 Coastal Cleanup. His wife wants to keep it, so he plans to take it home. Credit: Iris Kwok

More than 1,000 volunteers showed up in Berkeley, navigating the rocky shoreline and picking out bits of styrofoam, shards of glass, plastic bottles and cigarette butts from crevices and browned weeds.

Some, like San Leandro resident Thomas Mueller, left with gifts: a Ganesha idol that he initially mistook for a piece of plastic and a gift card he received for finding the “most unusual” item of the day. (Runner-ups in the unusual item contest included a framed portrait of a Jack Russell Terrier and a formerly flaming arrow.)

Others, including Benjamin Weber, 9, who came with his family, walked out with new experiences — it was his first time participating in a beach cleanup — and a new friend. 

Sam Boyer, 12, Nicholas Weber, 6, and Benjamin Weber, 9, show off a tote bag of debris they collected. Credit: Iris Kwok

“I’m really compassionate about cleaning the ocean,” said Benjamin, a student at the Berkeley Arts Magnet School. “There’s sea life that’s dying because of waste and single-use plastics.”

Weber’s new pal, Sam Boyd, 12, said he attended the coastal cleanup with his mother because he didn’t have anything better to do. Besides, he added, “I don’t want to grow up in a world where there’s plastic and trash everywhere and don’t have a clean earth for everyone.”

Data gathered by volunteers was sent to the nonprofit Ocean Conservancy, which collects international data on marine debris and produces an annual cleanup report

An assortment of items, including a Ganesha idol, plastic shark figurine and formerly flaming arrow were uncovered from the Berkeley Marina during the 2022 Coastal Cleanup. Credit: Iris Kwok

“We, as individuals, can see how many bottle caps, how many straws, how many cigarette butts are ending up in our local waterways, in our environment and habitats for wildlife,” said Anthony DeCicco, program coordinator. 

Every third Saturday at 9 a.m., the city hosts a smaller-scale cleanup event at the marina. Email naturecenter@cityofberkeley.info.

Cleanup events like these, DeCicco added, allow children to “make that connection that we can create change on an individual level in our families, communities, schools, and businesses … to reduce the amount of plastic that we’re using in our lives.”

Holly Mines, 78, poses for a photograph at the Berkeley Marina. Credit: Iris Kwok

Retired social worker Holly Mines, 78, said she left feeling optimistic and amazed seeing the number of people, young and old, who came out to volunteer.

The sheer number of people, however, “made it a little difficult to find your spot,” she said. “I just ended up doing a small spot.” 

Savannah Sawyer, 31, a UC Berkeley student living in Albany, was inspired to participate in the coastal cleanup and said, “it really needs to be more than just one day out of the year.”

“It makes me feel sad that we get to enjoy all these beautiful parks, but people aren’t appreciating them the way they should be,” Sawyer said, reaching down to pick up a small shard of glass with her gloved hand. “I wonder how many animals cut themselves on glass or take it home with them, thinking that it’s something it isn’t.” 

Statewide, with about 60% of the cleanup sites reporting, more than 27,000 volunteers collected 125 tons of trash (220,861 pounds) and recyclable materials (29,702 pounds), according to the California Coastal Commission.

Savannah Sawyer, 31, holds several pieces of debris, including a clear glass shard. Credit: Iris Kwok

Iris Kwok covers the environment for Berkeleyside through a partnership with Report for America. A former music journalist, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle, KQED, San Francisco Examiner...