Keeping a Sanctuary Clean

May 6, 2015

Volunteers turned out at an April cleanup in Elkhorn Slough.
Credit Photo: Rex Sanders


On a Saturday in April, more than 25 enthusiastic volunteers turned out to clean up the trails and roads around Elkhorn Slough, just inland from Moss Landing. The slough is the second largest coastal estuary in California, and home to endangered species including the sea otter and the Santa Cruz long-toed salamander. Twice a year volunteers and staff fill a giant 30 or 40 yard dumpster with garbage from trails and roadsides.

"We have a real problem with illegal roadside dumping," said Kim Hayes, stewardship director for the Elkhorn Slough Foundation. The most common thing they pick up is fast food trash. "Essentially people eating fast food in their cars and throwing the trash out the window," Hayes said. "We see that pretty much every day in this watershed." The trash gets into the slough and could wash out into Monterey Bay.

Items recovered included a livingroom furniture set.
Credit Photo: Rex Sanders

Hayes gathered the volunteers around tables piled high with donated apples, oranges, and home-baked treats in the main Elkhorn Slough Reserve parking lot. After signing in, each volunteer was equipped with a reflective vest, a black trash bag, and a long handled trash picker. They also carry yellow warning tape to mark potentially hazardous materials for professional disposal.

Years of cleanups

Margie Kay is a long-time volunteer at Elkhorn Slough. She lives just a few minutes away, and she's been picking up litter from local roadways for years. "We want to protect all the birds and the animals and make it look pretty for everybody who lives here and drives these roads," said Kay.

Trash left in the slough watershed not only ruins a beautiful landscape, it threatens wildlife in the slough and Monterey Bay.
Credit Photo: Rex Sanders

  In 2006, Kay convinced Monterey County to expand coastal cleanups to neighborhoods, schools and parks throughout the county, including Elkhorn Slough. Every year the cleanup volunteers find something strange. Once they found a stolen safe at the bottom of a hill.

"I guess they got frustrated and couldn't open it," said Kay. "We had to go down through poison oak, a steep slope, and bring it back up." Kay turned the safe over to the sheriff's department, but never found out what was inside.

First time volunteer

Kirby Park is a popular spot on the slough, with a dock to launch kayaks and a trail along the shore. Five volunteers drove there to pick up trash including Marissa, who grew up in Watsonville. In high school she and her friends picked up trash in Ramsay Park while bird watching. Through her biology professor at San Jose State University, Marissa found out about the Elkhorn Slough cleanup. This was her first visit to the slough.

Volunteers seek trash along the banks of Elkhorn Slough.
Credit Photo: Rex Sanders

"It's a beautiful place, I love it," Marissa said. "I wasn't even aware how beautiful it was. It's good for the environment, and it's a good thing to do on this beautiful Saturday morning." She plans to return for future cleanups.

By noon volunteers and staff picked up lots of fast food containers, a set of living room furniture, and one waterlogged TV. They filled a giant dumpster with trash and several pickup trucks with recycling.

They left Elkhorn Slough prettier and cleaner – for a little while.