Dive In to Earth Day 2006 Coverage, 04/06
By Janine DeFao & Glen Martin
Poor planet stewardship can hurt. Just ask Cheryl Chen.
"I have a friend who was out here surfing last year," said Chen, gesturing to the surging swell west of San Francisco's Ocean Beach, "and she fell off her board. Hit her head on a submerged shopping cart."
That's why Chen and fellow members of The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL), an environmental group composed mostly of scuba divers, spent Saturday -- Earth Day -- picking up garbage at Ocean Beach.
They were joined by scores of others -- some affiliated with environmental organizations, others out on their own -- all winnowing the sand for trash.
The haul was impressive: pickup-truck loads of junk of every nauseating shape, description and consistency.
"It's great that everybody's here, but this is just really par for the course," said Jeff Dunning, the National Park Service's maintenance work leader for Ocean Beach.
"It's a never-ending battle to keep the trash off this beach," Dunning said. "We're out here every day doing this."
Dunning produced a depressingly long handwritten list of trash that had been picked off the beach in a two-day period the week before: shopping carts, syringes and needles, broken glass, rusty nails, televisions, computer components.
"The worst thing is that this stuff ends up used as fuel for all the bonfires we get out here," Dunning said. "You have fires spewing all these poisons into the air. They're toxic waste sites."
Still, you do what you can do -- especially on Earth Day. And all across the Bay Area, folks were doing what they could.
"It's an important day for people to come out and give back to the Earth," said Oakland resident Isaac Mora, 20. "The Earth gives us so much. Without the Earth, we wouldn't be here."
Mora, an AmeriCorps volunteer, was among a group who tackled Cesar Chavez Park in Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood, one of 85 projects throughout the city.
While volunteers planted trees and painted a faded, brown play structure with vibrant colors, Mora sat painting eagles, the symbol of the United Farm Workers Union, on trash cans. Maintenance workers have found the artwork wards off vandalism.
"We're trying to reclaim the park so more families will come," said event organizer Lindsay Rojas of the Unity Council, a neighborhood nonprofit.
At the back of the small park, surrounded on three sides by dilapidated apartment buildings and busy Foothill Boulevard, workers pulled hemlock, fennel and other non-native plants and weeds from Peralta Creek.
The creek, restored by the city in 2004, is an incongruous strip of wild in an otherwise urban environment. The burble of water over rocks almost drowns out the sound of whirring traffic, and the bright orange California poppies draw the eye away from the peeling paint of nearby buildings.
"It's very important to have something aesthetically pleasing and quiet," said Kristin Hathaway, who works for the city's watershed program. "Places like this are a refuge for people who live in very urban areas."
Mark Dieter and Jeanette Weisman, a couple of wildlife biologists who recently moved into the neighborhood, joined the effort after searching online for an Earth Day project.
"Owning a house, you get invested. You want to see restoration where you live," said Weisman, 30. "You know, 'Think globally, act locally.' "
Back at Ocean Beach, 8-year-old Jacob Gerenrot seemed quite please with his individual effort.
"I got this, and it made my bag really heavy," said Gerenrot, wielding a long metal flange. "Also, a bunch of seeds and two tennis balls. I think that's enough."
From a child's perspective, such an effort may indeed seem Herculean. But others were acutely aware of the limitations of citizen action.
"You look at it now, and it seems clean," said Jay Sachdeu, who stood at the Ocean Beach seawall after helping his girlfriend, The Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) program coordinator Florence Depondt, with cleanup.
"But you go down on the beach, and it's littered with bits of broken glass, pieces of plastic and millions of cigarette butts," Sachdeu said. "It's depressing."