Tuesday, February 19, 2008
With a pervasive smile on his face, Terry, a longtime Aquarium of the Pacific volunteer, preached his message of conservation aided by a large stuffed turtle and a white plastic trash bag. Trash that is tossed on the ground ends up in the ocean, where it can hurt or even kill sea turtles and other marine life, Terry told all who would listen, and listen they did. Approximately 340 of them, actually.
Terry was part of an extensive, mostly volunteer workforce that was on hand at Cesar Chavez Park in downtown Long Beach recently for the Aquarium’s annual Neighborhood Street Cleanup held a few weeks ago. Those who came to give up their Saturday morning to pick up trash in the neighborhoods that surround the park included many children, and boy did they pick up trash! To the tune of 1,207 pounds to be exact. That’s more than half a ton! WOW!!!
Despite the amount of trash collected at the street cleanup, which is put on by the Aquarium’s Green Team, its environmentally minded committee, Aquarium volunteer Cindy said the good news is that “there were a lot of areas that looked pretty good, without a lot of trash.” Cindy said she found a lot of cigarette butts, which “were the number one piece of garbage that I came across,” she said, adding that “we found things like phone books in the gutter, soaking wet” from recent rains.
Cindy smiled a lot during the event, which was the brainchild of Alexi from the marketing department, who has been its coordinator since it first started five years ago. Cindy especially appreciated the well thought out advance planning that made everything run so smoothly, she said. She was quite impressed that the plans included having crossing guards make sure that oncoming traffic and people intent on picking up trash did not collide at the on-ramp to the 710 Freeway that borders the west side of the park. She also noticed that participants “seemed to be enjoying themselves and were pleasant and making the most of their time there,” she said.
Aprons to be worn by volunteer trash pickers, also were a hit, Cindy said, adding that these were particularly popular with the children. The aprons–made by Ivolou, an education department volunteer, and others–consist of two large pieces of denim connected by red ribbons. On the front bib of each is an Aquarium bumper sticker that was sold a while back in the gift shop, Pacific Collections. The back of each bore a sign with the Green Team and Aquarium logos and the phrase “A Cleaner Street Means a Healthier Ocean.”
Children weren’t the only ones enjoying the aprons, Cindy noted. “One guy, who was about 6 feet tall and large, was proudly wearing one. He had his trash picker and garbage bags, and wore that vest. They were not just for kids. It made me smile,” Cindy told me.
Numerous paid staff members and volunteers at the Aquarium, representing such departments as husbandry, education, marketing, finance, guest services, and facilities, did such things as register participants as they came to sign up, weigh the trash bags, fill the dumpster, and pass out free-giveaways and supplies–water, gloves, bags, aprons, and trash grabbers. The Aquarium on Wheels was on hand, too, for those interested in seeing and touching tidepool animals.
Among those who came to cheer on the volunteer trash collectors was Long Beach Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal, who passed out litter bags and chatted with the participants, encouraging them to pick up as much trash as possible and thanking them for their help.
The Wilmore Police Center, which is associated both with the City of Long Beach and the Neighborhood Resource Center, was represented by Teresa Gonzales, who brought rubber gloves and trash bags for use by the volunteers. The El Dorado Nature Center also brought gloves and trash bags, as well as trash grabbers, and the California Coastal Commission provided colorful stickers. The Wilmore Police Center also donated the use of the ever-important dumpster.
Kerstin Kansteiner, owner of Portfolio Coffeehouse,donated coffee and stayed to serve it throughout the event. Litter Free Long Beach, this year represented by Lorna Diaz, donated cardboard trash cans and various promotional items.
Staff members who went beyond the call of duty to get the event off the ground were, first of all, Alexi, who had a bad cold and wound up with laryngitis on the day of the trash pickup. Trooper that she is, she worked that day regardless of how she felt, and her well-planned project went off without a hitch! In addition to helping make the aprons, Ivolou also cleans and presses them every year. On the night before the trash pickup, Neal from Pacific Collections, and Catherine, from the education department—she’s also the Green Team coordinator–were among those who helped load a truck with tables and supplies.
Also working in the days before the event was Shannon, from volunteer services, who made maps of the area surrounding Cesar Chavez Park along with a list of suggested items to pick up printed on the other side. Robin, an Aquarium education volunteer, made the stop sign Fahria and Marty used to keep people safe as they crossed the street near the entrance to the freeway.
“Working at the Aquarium has really allowed me to take on some ‘unique’ responsibilities,” said Fahria, from Aquarium administration, of her crossing guard duties. “I was a pretty awful crossing guard but I learned from Marty and really got the hang of it by the end. It was really scary at times,” she said.
Marty, an education volunteer, apparently was perfect for the job. “Turns out he has been the street cross person for the AIDS walk for 12 years,” Alexi told me, explaining that “he started laughing when he asked what he could do and I handed him the beautiful stop sign that Robin had made.”
Sierra, one of the education volunteers on my shift, was thrilled to have taken part in such a fun event. It “was amazing. There were so many people (who) showed up and were excited about doing the right thing,” she said, adding that the “Aquarium staff and volunteers had everything really organized and you know me and how I like organization. All in all, it was a good time.”
Cindy, who also volunteers on my shift, said that another thing that made her smile was seeing a little girl of about 5 or 6 and “maybe three feet tall, with a trash picker that was almost as long as she was tall. She was carrying it with her elbow up to her ear to keep it from hitting the ground,” Cindy said. “Someone said she should give it to someone else who was taller, but she said she wanted to keep it to use.”
Terry, his sea turtle, and the plastic bag, meanwhile, kept on telling the tale of how a sea turtle mistakes the bag for a sea jelly, one of its favorite foods, and ignorant to the danger, it swallows the bag.
Terry “did an outstanding job of drawing an audience of both young and old and, with the help of his turtle buddy, explained WHY the cleanup was important, (that it’s) not just for satisfaction and beautification, but (also to) help the environment. People went away with a ‘mission’ to collect trash,” Robin told me.
The stuffed turtle, which was purchased in Pacific Collections, is about 18 inches long and 11 inches wide, and covered Terry’s entire forearm, Cindy recounted. “It was nice that this was an interactive opportunity for education there. They (Aquarium staff) had information to make people think, and it was a fun event. Very rewarding,” Cindy said.
Terry apparently preached his conservation message to anyone who would listen, even if they didn’t understand what he said. A group of non-English speakers may not have understood his words, anyway, but they sure understood his message. When he gave his spiel, Terry “noticed that (they) shook their heads and understood the message. A little dramatization replaced language,” he said.
With all the children who attended the event, Terry was able to really spread the conservation message among those of the next generation who are inheriting our world. “I told them not to miss any plastic bags in the gutter because when it rains they end up in the ocean. I showed them how they could look like a jelly and demonstrated how a turtle could eat one and swallow it. I asked them what would happen and they said he would get sick and might die,” Terry told me.
And that, my friends, is what happened early one Saturday morning, a few weeks ago. Remember: reduce, reuse, recycle, and rethink.
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