Normally when you think of a beach cleanup, you picture dozens of do-gooders out for Earth Day or something, scouring the beach with sacks extracting every plastic bottle and cigarette butt. But when the National Park Service did a cleanup last week on San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, it rolled out the big guns of beach cleanup.
Large bulldozers rolled across the sand, grabbing-up telephone poles and beams of wood. Their giant jaws clenched tires and even railroad ties, hauling them back to a bin in the parking lot.
“We get everyone’s waste and debris,” Matthew Keane of the National Park Service said.
The currents, tides and location at the mouth of the Bay conspire to make Ocean Beach an international receptacle; it catches debris floating out the bay from as far as Sacramento, and lands debris making its way across the Pacific Ocean.
“The debris comes out here from all over the world,” said Vika Sirova, the National Park Service’s Environmental Protection Specialist. “The removal takes a lot of effort because it’s every bulky and heavy and requires special equipment.”
Because of logistics and expense, the cleanup was the kind only performed every few years. Sirova said the park service was anxious to remove the industrial wood, the majority treated with chemicals like creosote, a carcinogenic tar used to preserve wood.
“The majority of the things we have removed is called a creosote tar treatment,” Sirova said. “Very often you see kids and adults use this type of debris to have benches to have picnics.”
The big find of the day was what appeared to be the bumper off a fishing dock — telephone pole-sized beams holding up some 40 tires. The cleanup crew filled up a truck with the tires — enough to put 10 cars back on the road. While the find was curious, it wasn’t as surprising as the large blue fishing box that washed up on the beach a month back. The blue box with Japanese writing and covered in marine species was believed to be a floating refugee of the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
“It had a lot of Japanese markings on it,” Sirova said. “It had your classic indication of marine growth.”
The box was so covered in tiny sea creatures that researchers from the Smithsonian Institute took samples back to their lab for study. Environmentalists were concerned the non-native species could set-up house in the area, and lead to further environmental havoc.
By the end of the cleanup, the National Park Service had hauled off 15 tons worth of debris from the beach plus 40 tires. Sirova watched as a tractor dropped one last pole into a bin already filled with varying chunks of lumber.
“You can see there are a lot of kids out there,” Sirova said while scanning the beach. “So I think they are in a better place after this cleanup operation.”