Picking up the Pieces

December 16, 2016

Coastal Cleanup Day is one of the most widely participated days of volunteerism in Mendocino County, and it’s not hard to see why. With so many beautiful waterways and beaches, it’s natural for the community to want to come together once a year and do its part to help keep our home pristine. It wouldn’t be possible to remove the thousands of pounds of garbage without the hundreds of volunteers who show up that day, or the dozens of dedicated beach captains who rally the troops.  The event has been organized in Mendocino County by the Land Trust for more than 10 years, and it is the culmination of weeks of planning. This year, however, posed a particularly interesting challenge, which required volunteers to go above and beyond the call of duty, working well past the one-day cleanup.  

Jeff and Cate of Liquid Fusion Kayaking have volunteered to captain the cleanup effort in Noyo Harbor, with help from members of the Traditional Small Craft Association (TSCA), for the past eight years. Together with their crew, they have taken to the water and removed hundreds of pounds of garbage and debris from the harbor each year. From boat parts, rigging and fishing equipment, to old bikes and even shopping carts, it’s amazing what they have recovered.

At this year’s Sept. 17 cleanup, they were finding pieces of yellow polyurethane foam, in huge chunks and tiny bits, and they wanted to remove the source of all that debris to prevent more of it from littering the waterway. What they discovered was a huge section of an old pile-driver barge belonging to the late Bruce Abernathy, a Noyo Harbor fisherman and salvage operator, used to drive wood piles for the harbor. They knew disposing of this long-forgotten debris it would be no easy feat, but they were determined to try. Together, they paddled and towed it to the Dolphin Island Marina loading zone, and with the help of two trucks, the 1,000-pound section of old barge was hauled out. But that was only half the battle. Now that it was safely out of the water, how would they get rid of it?

Working closely with Waste Management, which donates the dumpsters every year for Coastal Cleanup Day, it was clear that the best and least costly course of action would be to break it into pieces so that it could fit into a dumpster. Easier said than done, but once again Jeff rallied the troops. With saws and crowbars, they tore apart the huge block by hand and began to fill dumpster after dumpster.

Finally, three months after it was first brought ashore, the giant section of old pile-driver barge was removed from Noyo Harbor, away from the waterway and the fish and birds that might have ingested its deteriorating foam. 

A undertaking like this takes a lot of work, but it’s easier when the whole community is there to lend a hand. From the kind folks of the TSCA who hauled the barge out, to the people at Dolphin Island Marina who supported their efforts, and to Waste Management for helping carry the debris away, we see real progress when we all come together. Because of the effort and hard work of these volunteers, we can continue to enjoy our beautiful beaches and diverse wildlife, and for that we are very grateful.