By Jake Howard

Anyone notice all the rain we’ve gotten this winter? It’s been a wet one, hasn’t it? As a result, the hills around Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente are looking more like Ireland than the dusty southland we’ve come to know during the drought years. Colorful palettes of wildflowers abound. And for the surfing populous, area sandbars have been greatly replenished and are in fine form. From Gravels, to Doheny, down to Uppers and San Onofre, all of the water from the local creeks and arroyos have moved tons of sand and rock, reshaping our wave-riding playgrounds in the process. Of course, it comes at a cost. All of the rain means urban runoff, which means beach and ocean pollution.

That’s where Shon Miller and his San Clemente Beach Conservation program comes into play. Over the last year or so you may have seen him and his ever-growing crew of “activists” hitting the sands around San Clemente, diligently picking up waste and refuse that either washes up or is left behind by careless visitors.

The San Clemente beach Conservation program hosts fun beach clean-up activities in order to engage people. Photo: File
The San Clemente beach Conservation program hosts fun beach clean-up activities in order to engage people. Photo: File

“I grew up here, my family’s lived here for generations; the least I can do to give back is dedicate myself to making our community and beaches a better place for everyone,” said Miller.

After trying his hand at a number of career opportunities, including event marketing and financial planning, Miller decided to step away from his nine-to-five routine and sink his toes deep into the sand.

“We started as a local, grassroots organization with the goal of helping make San Clemente beaches a cleaner place,” he continued. “That starts with beach clean-ups, but it’s much more. We have events for kids to come out and help, and have fun, but also learn a lot about their environment and the role they can play in helping. We also have created partnerships in Australia, Portugal and other places, so it’s becoming this loose network of local people all with the same goals.”

Miller’s clearly taking a page out of the environmentalist playbook: think global, act local. And thanks to fundraising efforts and the support of some local business, 2017 looks to be a big year for San Clemente Beach Conservation. On the first Friday of every month they’re hosting a “Bonfire Beach Clean w/ S’mores & Pizza Party” to rally the youth. And on the third Saturday of every month, Miller’s scheduled a “Free Breakfast & Beach Clean w/ Friends,” which welcomes all comers with open arms and will continue to adopt beaches in the area throughout the year.

“The clean-ups are a lot of fun and we’ve got a great, and growing, group that are involved,” said Miller. “It’s a great opportunity to come out and meet your neighbors and do some good.”

When it comes to the kinds of waste the San Clemente Beach Conservation crew are finding, we asked Miller to offer up his list of top five offenders. Here’s what he’s seeing on the front lines:

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The San Clemente beach Conservation program hosts fun beach clean-up activities in order to engage people. Photo: Courtesy of Dustin Dill
  1. Cigarette butts: “It’s baffling to me that smokers don’t think of their cigarette butts as litter, but you come down any evening during the summer and people have left hundreds of them behind. It’s an epidemic around here.”
  1. Styrofoam: “It’s not just coffee cups and food containers, but over time, styrofoam starts to break down and it gets dirty, so it becomes really hard to see in the sand, and it’s everywhere. The other day we did a clean-up and on the way down to the beach somebody told us it looked clean and we weren’t going to find anything. We ended up pulling 100 pounds of styrofoam off the beach.”
  1. Water bottles: “Besides maybe cigarette butts, the single-use plastic water bottle thing is a killer. We’d love to get more hydration stations down at our beaches so people can refill and reuse.”
  1. Random plastic: “People come from all over to enjoy our beautiful beaches, but when they leave, they leave sand toys, beach chairs, all kinds of stuff behind. It’s a very disposable mindset. It seems weird that you come somewhere to enjoy the beauty and then leave all your trash behind.”
  1. Trashcan Overflow: “Wind, birds, the cans being overfilled—in terms of throwing their garbage away, a lot of people get 90 percent of the way there and miss the mark. We need to think about solutions for this because it could have a profound impact, especially during busy summer weekends.”

Find out more and how to get involved with San Clemente Beach Conservation at www.beachconservation.org.

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