Andrew Melese
Staff Writer

Do you ever wonder what magic gives Santa Barbara’s beaches their idyllic nature? The miles of pristine coast effortlessly attract students and tourists alike. But it isn’t an accident that our beaches have achieved their fame.

I.V. beaches are actually the product of consistent citizen management and oversight. Many volunteer groups, including the Surfrider Association and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, rid the beaches of trash so that they maintain their untouched quality.

The results speak for themselves, but aren’t always easily achieved. In discussing how much goes into beach maintenance, Ben Pitterle, watershed program director of Channelkeeper, said beach maintenance requires “coordinating and organizing volunteers.”

“It also requires policy work,” he said. “Our clean-ups are important, but policies that minimize the spread of trash are equally important. The grocery bag ban, for instance, will leave less trash on the beach to begin with.”

Pitterle added that keeping trash off beaches in the first place is the best means to their preservation.

As one who has benefited from the deeply aesthetic quality that seems present on any piece of coast within twenty miles of UCSB, I wanted to know from Pitterle not only what beach clean-ups involved, but whether they had any potential risks. Had people been hurt during the process of allowing our public beaches to shine their brightest?

Pitterle said that while beach cleanups are usually benign, lagoons can unfortunately have hazardous waste associated with cleanup projects.

“We often find auto waste that is not innocuous to handle,” he said. “That can be a bit unsettling to deal with.”

Though sanguine in his description, Pitterle conveyed what some may view as an implicit free-rider problem. While a small group clean the beaches or lagoons, everyone reaps the benefit of having a beautiful coastline as a product of the effort that his and other foundations put forth. As such, he admitted that some people have no idea how much energy Channelkeeper, Surfrider, and other groups put into giving us the coastline as we know it.

Yet the product is superb. It’s also a lead-in to the central coast route that culminates in the “17 mile drive” through Big Sur. The central coast is often thought of as one of the great wonders of California. On that basis, many consider Highway 101 through Santa Barbara to be part of the southern edge of that expanse. This gives our coastline an additional purpose to being our own wonder: it is also a gateway into a national treasure.

Even if many who gaze onto our shore from cars, bikes, or hikes are unaware that it takes great lengths to keep that shore so lovely, one can still find the act of cleaning the beaches entirely justifiable. For when the beaches are clean for all to appreciate, their beauty is a gift known to all, even if its origin is not. So while public knowledge of the work beach and coastal watershed nonprofits do may not be widespread, the good work they do is still felt. And again, the product is amazing.



  1. Excellent reminder of how lucky we all are with beautiful beaches (kept in that way by hard diligent work) around us:-)

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