NEWPORT BEACH, California – For the third consecutive year, more than 20 volunteers traveled to the Santa Ana River Marsh Sept. 21 to participate in California’s Coastal Cleanup Day.
The 92-acre marsh lies at the outlet of the Santa Ana River to the Pacific Ocean in Newport Beach and is owned and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District.
Large amounts of trash from the entire Santa Ana River watershed washes downstream each year and accumulates in the marsh, which decreases habitat value, water quality and aesthetics.
More than 400 pounds of trash was removed from the area during this year’s cleanup event, according to Tiffany Armenta, a biologist in the Environmental Resource Branch, Planning Division, with the Corps’ Los Angeles District.
“The event went well, even though we didn't have as large of a turnout as expected,” Armenta said. “The amount of trash collected has gone down each year as a result of these annual cleanups.”
During the first year of the event, volunteers removed more than 3,000 pounds of trash out of the marsh.
One of the biggest trash contributors is single-use disposable plastics, like straws, cups, spoons, take-out containers and water bottles. As these items age in the sun, they break down into micro-plastics, which can be difficult to pick up. The micro-plastics can then be easily swallowed by birds and marine life.
The marsh was originally restored in the 1990s for habitat enhancement and mitigation as part of the Corps’ Santa Ana River Mainstem Project. This habitat type, known as coastal salt marsh, is now very rare in California and provides an important habitat for wildlife.
More than 90 bird species winter in and around the marsh, and several endangered species, like the Belding’s savannah sparrow, California least tern and the light-footed Ridgeway’s rail, forage and live there. Vegetation, like cordgrass and pickleweed, also provide important habitat for the birds nesting and foraging in the marsh.
A portion of the area includes an island the Corps built to allow California least terns to nest.
The Santa Ana River Marsh Cleanup Day is an annual event, organized by the Sierra Club and Orange County Earth Stewards, and hosted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District. Some of the other organizations and participants include volunteers from Drains to Ocean, Orange County Coastkeeper, Fairview Park Alliance, Newport Bay Conservancy and the Sea & Sage Audubon Society.
“I'm excited to keep these efforts up and continue to improve this important habitat,” Armenta said.
In its 35th year, the California Coastal Cleanup Day is one of the state’s largest annual volunteer events, organized by the California Coastal Commission. It is part of the International Coastal Cleanup, organized by the Ocean Conservancy.
During California Coastal Cleanup in 2018, about 70,000 volunteers picked up more than 800,000 pounds of trash and recyclable materials at about 1,000 sites across the state, according to the California Coastal Cleanup Commission’s website.