Another incredible cleanup event of the Tijuana River Estuary occurred this past Saturday and it was a great success! With 134 volunteers showing up, our turnout nearly doubled from our last cleanup at the end of January.

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Overall, we collected 5.49 tons of trash – enough to fill up 75% of a 40-cubic yard dumpster. On top of that, we removed 32 tires. This time, we partnered with Wildcoast, a local organization that aims to inspire people into action to defend the coast and ocean and wildlife that is endangered or threatened with extinction.

What never ceases to amaze us every time we go to one of these cleanups is just how large of a problem this really is. You walk into the designated area for the event – which is really only a very small portion of the entire valley and estuary – and you are immediately bombarded with this colossal spread of trash.

There are building materials – rugs, plywood, string, insulation – children’s toys, clothing, coolers, tires, buckets, food refuse, car seats, even a dead rooster. Plastics of all kinds – bags, bottles, six pack rings – and styrofoam pellets are everywhere. There are tiny shreds of plastic bags so finely broken down into the soil that you can’t even begin to get rid of them.

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To make matters worse, this layer of trash is from just this season’s rains. Every time there is a big storm, more trash is carried down through the watershed via the different channels and culverts along the way. That current layer of trash dries out and, if not completely removed, it gets buried under a new layer of trash the next season. Basically, we have one giant layer cake all over different parts of the valley and estuary. Eventually, the chemicals from that trash will severely impact soil quality, preventing vegetation from thriving and thus affecting the entire ecosystem that depends on the valley and estuary. And, as we at Surfrider are well aware of, every time it rains, that runoff from the area washes out into our ocean, causing dangerous pollution levels and beach closures throughout Imperial Beach and the border region.

“How on earth can we ever fix this?” you begin to think. “What can I possibly do to help solve this massive problem?”

It’s easy to feel discouraged about the state of things when all you see is the bad. Some may even feel the issue is too large a feat to tackle. But then you remember that over 350 migratory and native birds, including 6 endangered species call this estuary home.

And it’s at that moment, when you remember that fact, that you start to look around – past the discarded tires, the beat-up children’s toys, the battered clothes, the building materials. This beautiful estuary turned makeshift dump is not a ruined wasteland, yet. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Green plants and flowers still bloom among the waste. Birds fly overhead, land on tree branches and watch you curiously while you clean.

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There is still plenty of life amidst the debris. Plenty of life to save. And there are plenty of ways to help do just that.

“But,” you may ask, “Can I really make a difference?”

The answer: Yes, you can.

Just by reading this very blog post, you are helping to sow the seeds of change. The most important thing you can do as a conscientious person is to stay informed and be aware of what is going on with our planet and especially within your community. By doing so, you can make informed decisions and open a conscious dialogue.

Here are some other ways you can make a difference in the border sewage issue everyday:

1. Come to a cleanup.
This is the best way to see first hand what the real situation is. We can describe only so well in our blog posts. At a cleanup, you’ll get hands on experience and you will have the opportunity to talk to California State Parks employees and other dedicated volunteers, furthering your education of the issue. Sign up to receive emails about upcoming cleanups by sending an email to nobs@surfridersd.org.

2. Attend a committee meeting.
Attend one of our No Border Sewage committee meetings to get more involved. We are a passionate group of individuals who would love your help. No Border Sewage committee meetings are held the first Tuesday of every month, from 6:30-8pm at our Surfrider San Diego office.

3. Tell others!
The more you can spread the word about what is going on with the watershed, the better. Nothing is more important than increasing awareness of the issue. Invite others to come to committee meetings, attend cleanups, or just head south to Border Field State Park to see the area. Post about the issue on social media outlets. Talk to your friends and colleagues.

Think about what might happen if all of San Diego County made this their top political agenda item.

4. Contact your local representatives.
Reach out to your local congressmen and women and ask them what they are doing to help tackle the problem.

5. Look for others fighting the good fight.
In addition to becoming part of the No B.S. committee, search out other individuals and groups doing their part to fight the border sewage issue. It’s easy to get mad about the state of things. But instead of getting angry, start looking for allies.

6. Remember that this not a border issue.
While a larger percentage of the trash and runoff comes from Mexico, this is not an “us” versus “them” problem. The border is just a line, but the Tijuana River watershed affects both of us just the same. We are from the same land and we share this issue equally. We need to work together to tackle it.

There are of course many more actions you can take to address this large dilemma, but just keeping these in mind will help immensely. Remember, change starts with the individual and it can spread like wildfire if driven with enough dedication.

So start somewhere, even if it’s just a small effort. And stay positive. We can work together to solve this issue and make the watershed, estuary, and our oceans, waves and beaches healthy and thriving once again!

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We give special thanks to Purakai for sponsoring this event and supporting our mission to protect our oceans, waves and beaches. Be sure to check out Purakai’s amazing eco-friendly clothing line at www.purakai.com.

A thank you to our partners; CA State Parks, WILDCOASTTijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve, NOAA, 91X FM Radio, Outlets at the Border, Panda Express, Clif Bar and KIND Bar.

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Our next No Border Sewage committee meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 7th, 2015 at our Surfrider San Diego office. Plan to join us as well at our next cleanup event the first weekend in June. More details to follow.