Dozens of dolphins played tag with the boat’s bow as scenic Arch Rock passed to the right, open water occupied the left, and the foggy texture of Ventura Harbor welcomed a vessel loaded with 24 volunteers and 370 pounds of collected trash after the 5th CHI Anacapa Cleanup Day on December 14.
“The dolphins just wanted to say thank you,” Island Packers Fleet Manager Alex Brodie announced over the ship’s loudspeaker. Santa Barbara Adventure Company owner Michael Cohen took charge of the 2011 event and gathered a diverse, jovial crew of kayak outfitters, transporters, and a nonprofits to clean up trash around Anacapa Island for the National Park Service.
The National Park Service provides outfitters, like Cohen’s company, permits to use the Channel Islands for tours and outings. The federal agency smiles on projects like this, according to Cohen, but they are not necessary to maintain one’s permit. “We’re doing guided kayak tours out there all summer long, so we wanted to give something back to the Channel Islands National Park,” said Cohen.
Island Packers donated the boat, gas, and crew for transporting the team. Aqua Sports, Channel Island Outfitters, and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper joined together to give the paddling grounds some needed attention. “We’re going to pick up plastic in our little plastic boats,” said Channel Island Outfitters Guide Mike Wathen.
Keeping the Channel Islands clean is important to area tour companies for many reasons, including environmental and aesthetic causes. Picking up trash is nothing new. Brina Carey of Santa Barbara Adventure Company often picks up trash when out with clients. She saw less large trash at this year’s event than in the past, but micro trash can be detrimental. “You realize how much little stuff can accumulate,” said Carey.
Anacapa Island is shaped like a banana that, when combined with the prevailing current and winds, makes it tough for jellyfish to vacate the area and easy for trash to collect along the shores, according to Brodie.
Before boarding the Island Packers boat that would convey the volunteers 45 minutes out to Anacapa Island, what seemed to be a group of friends was broken down to its component companies by the embroidered logos on the guides’ gear. Other than those markings, one cohesive community embarked on a journey that was equal parts community service, celebration, and exploration. “It’s not just a beach cleanup,” said Channelkeeper Intern Jimmy Stanfill. “It’s like a beach cleanup and exploration,” agreed volunteer Chris Harlin.
Kayaks were launched from the Island Packers boat and volunteers collected trash for two and a half hours, from both the shore and the kelp beds. Small caves invited inquiry while the daunting height of Anacapa dwarfed those encircling it in their small vessels. The clear, deep water versus the bright sky and tall rock formations made it clear the kayakers were floating between two distinct but intertwined systems. Their actions in one would benefit the other.
Candy wrappers, balloon pieces, and drinking straws were common finds, aligning with Santa Barbara Channelkeeper Education and Community Outreach Coordinator Penny Owens’s prediction of most garbage collected being plastic.
“I’ve never seen adults so happy to find trash,” said Cohen as he observed and heard about various volunteers’ findings. A message in a bottle won the contest for the most unique item, narrowly beating out a plastic eyeball, toy Stegosaurus, and plastic French fry.
Volunteers explored the area as they cleaned the shore and combed the water. JD Dresser of Channel Island Outfitters explored a cave with a sloping sand dune and different colored rocks. He had not been paddling in the area for a while as pelican nesting makes it tough to get near the shore during certain times of the year.
Carey and other guides challenged rough water in a gap between rocks, and she happily ended up going for a swim.
Cohen is looking to bring the community into this event and even proposing the CHI Anacapa Cleanup as a “voluntourism” event that would not only provide a unique, fun experience for visitors but would also benefit the community. Instead of lying on the beach, Cohen suggests letting tourists work with the beach.
Many Californians do not frequent the Channel Islands, and that is something that the kayaking outfitters and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper would like to see change. Owens hopes to work with outfitters in the future to organize a large cleanup that would introduce Californians to this breathtaking formation.
“This is a chance to give back and explore something right in their backyard,” said Owens.