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Photograph by Noelle Luchino
ADD IT UP: Save Our Shores executive director Laura Kasa is counting on her organization's data collection efforts to get plastic out of the ocean.

Platforms and Plastics

Save Our Shores celebrates 32 years of fighting petroleum in the ocean

By Traci Hukill

HOW, EXACTLY, do major household appliances make their way to Santa Cruz County beaches and riverbanks? Why did volunteers find 35 percent more cigarette butts on last September's Annual Coastal Cleanup Day compared with the year before? Who dumps tires in the river anyway, or batteries or tampons or toys?

The staff and volunteers at Save Our Shores don't know everything about ocean pollution, but they know a lot. For instance, they know that on Coastal Cleanup Day in 2008, volunteers collected nine refrigerators, dryers and other appliances, almost 22,000 cigarette butts and about 3,500 plastic bags from 48 beach and river sites. A year later they found 21 appliances, more than 30,000 butts and 4,000 plastic bags.

And while the data collection element has introduced a certain amount of bummer to Save Our Shores' monthly and annual beach cleanups—not to mention necessitating extra time and manpower—Save Our Shores executive director Laura Kasa says it means the difference between just cleaning up other people's messes year after year and changing their behavior so the messes don't happen in the first place.

"It started three years ago when I was figuring out, what can we do to change public policy?" she says. "We've been doing beach cleanups for 30 years, but if we're not tracking what we're picking up, how can we tell legislators what the problems are? And it's kind of a drag, right? Because you have to put hash marks for every cigarette butt. But when we're giving the presentation at the beginning of the cleanups, people are really horrified by it, and then we tell this story: We were able to decrease the amount of Styrofoam in Santa Cruz County by 25 percent since the ban went into place."

Since starting its data collection operation three years ago, Save Our Shores has used its unique assembly of figures to advocate for laws prohibiting polystyrene and plastic bags throughout Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties. Notably, Santa Cruz County's plastic bag ban ordinance contained specific language from Save Our Shores' findings (19,000 plastic bags collected from county beaches in three years).

And as SOS continues its push to establish a presence along the entire Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, it's now doing monthly beach cleanups in Monterey County in addition to Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties. Not coincidentally, right now Kasa and her crew are focusing on polystyrene bans in Seaside, Marina and Salinas, as well as on a truly big fish: a statewide ban on plastic bags.

"It will happen in the next month if it's going to go," Kasa says of A.B. 1998, which would phase out single-use plastic bags by 2013. She adds that it passed in the Assembly last spring and now waits for the Senate's vote, and that members of the public should contact their state senators about it this week. "I think there's pretty good support for it, but we could have more of a push, because the plastics industry is stepping up its campaign to fight it."

But fights, even good fights, don't happen without money. This weekend Save Our Shores, now 32, is hosting its annual Toast to the Coast fundraiser at Seymour Center. The party will feature local wine and beer, a sustainable feast by Santa Cruz Green Cuisine, the chance to win a week-long getaway in Hawaii and the music of 7 Come 11.

SOS will also be handing out awards. Its Ocean Protection Hero of the Year Award—first bestowed two years ago on former congressman and current CIA chief Leon Panetta and Monterey Bay Aquarium executive director Julie Packard—will go to former Santa Cruzan Casson Trenor, who co-founded Tataki, the first sustainable sushi restaurant, and now works for Greenpeace.

The Best Business Award goes to Kelly's Bakery for its Community Dinner Market, for which hundreds of guests were asked to bring their own plates, forks and napkins. ("How can you throw a big party and have it be a waste-free event? But we saw people come with picnic baskets and make it happen.") Sanctuary steward Martel Anderson will receive the Best Volunteer award for her fundraising efforts, and the Best Youth award will go to a class at Mount Madonna School that won a national award for a video inspired by a beach cleanup. "They're these little activists," says Kasa. "Not just one kid. The whole class."

TOAST TO THE COAST is Saturday, Aug. 21, 6–9pm at the Seymour Center at Long Marine Lab, 100 Shaffer Road, Santa Cruz. Tickets are $30 members/$40 nonmembers/$50 at the door.

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