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People at Ocean beach for a Beach Clean up


Reflections on Earth Day 2024

“In nature nothing exists alone.”

- Rachel Carson, Silent Spring (1962)

Often deemed an overnight success, Silent Spring by nature writer Rachel Carson brought to light the impacts of unregulated pesticide use, resulting in the ban of DDT (a toxic insecticide dubbed "the insect killer" in the 1950s) and inspiring laws to which impact air, land, and water. Her poetic writing brought to light the intersection of public health and nature, and how fragile that relationship is when abused.

When people read Carson's words, they realized humans are not apart from nature, but rather they could envision themselves, their family, and their friends as potential victims of environmental harm. By 1970, the first Earth Day spurred nearly 20 million American activists to speak out about the harms of pollution and industrial impacts on our Earth. 


Over half a century later, 324 activists and volunteers joined Surfrider SF to commemorate Earth Day 2024 one day early by cleaning up Ocean Beach in San Francisco. Ocean Beach takes up a large expanse of the Western border of the city. When driving south from the top of Lands End to enter the beach highway, the sheer enormity of water versus land is a view unlike any other. Often encompassed by "Karl the Fog", Ocean Beach is the perfect example of Northern California coastal brilliance. And, when it breaks well and currents are safe, it is a popular surfing spot. 

Finding a location for a massive beach clean up is important, particularly on a holiday weekend celebrated by many ocean-loving San Franciscans. The decision to have it near Sloat Boulevard was intentional, as the area has been impacted by long-term coastal erosion. Coastal erosion depletes the land which erases shoreline, dunes, and beach access: all important to Ocean Beach lovers. When tides are high, erosion has made Sloat impassible, compromising surf breaks, ecosystems, and ultimately making the area unsafe. Saving Sloat is a campaign near and dear to San Francisco environmentalists, making it the perfect location for an Earth Day clean up. (You can learn more at:

People attending a beach clean up at Ocean beach

People at Ocean Beach preparing buckets before a beach clean up

The volunteers ranged from all ages, including some furry friends. Some came in school groups, others came with their close friends or family - all were excited to spend two hours of what is typically a lazy Sunday to graze the shores and parking lots to pick up 1,400 cigarette butts, ~40 shotgun wads, 137 pounds of recycling, and a staggering 227 pounds of trash. The metrics were staggering for a beach which routinely hosts beach clean ups, and serves as an important reminder of the impact reoccurring beach clean ups have. 

We spoke with volunteers to ask what brought them out for Earth Day, any memories they have of celebrating the holiday, and what climate issues they were most passionate about.  

What climate issues are you most passionate about?

"It's such a wide ranging thing because it has so many aspects of our lives. I think I'm most interested in either food sustainability or decarbonization. The environment is very important and I'm interested in ecological causes, so it's all intersectional." - Jason 

"Conservancy. I spend a lot of time in the water and I surf - I live right on the coast in Pacifica. The thought of future generations not being able to indulge in and it being filled with plastic and not safe to swim in breaks my heart because that's my core memories." - Carla

"Global warming and that every year, the water is rising." - Danny

What inspired you to get involved with the beach clean up and Surfrider today?

"I was looking for something to do on a nice Sunday and I heard you guys were hosting a beach clean up as well as an event about coastal plants." - Jason

"I've been looking for ways to get involved in an environmental organization which focuses on the ocean. I've been trying to step away from the career that I'm in and going this route, and what better way than to start volunteering and meet people that way - find the same people that have the same mindset." - Carla

"I work for Hyatt and every year we do beach clean ups and my daughter is very into Earth Day - she's in first grade - and last year we got very conscientious about it by changing things at the house with more biodegradable and recyclable products." - Danny 

What are your favorite Earth Day memories?

"I went to a tree planting five years ago and that was really fun because you can go back and see the tree and see how it's doing." - Jason

"It's kind of silly, but in Elementary school, we had an Earth Day festival and we had all of these little booths and play games outside. [We learned] about the Earth and how to recycle." - Carla

"I've done other [beach clean ups] in Santa Cruz and this is my first one here. I am blown away by how many people came here. It was crazy! And it shows it's working - the amount of years and the more people are aware of it and want to join in the effort." - Danny

In an uncharacteristic fashion, Karl the Fog departed and the sun stepped in, which created a healthy glow for the Surfrider SF volunteers. The afterglow of a mere couple of hours cleaning the beach shown on every other face as they organized their trash, said their goodbyes, and continued the rest of their Sunday activities.

If Rachel Carson were to observe the aftermath of her work, and the transpiring activist efforts on every Earth Day, we can only wonder what she would think. And, of course, while it rings true that "every day is Earth Day", it's wonderful to have a holiday which encourages us to connect with nature once again, and take action to make the planet healthy for its people, animals, and oceans. 

For more information on future beach clean ups and other events hosted by Surfrider SF, you can follow the link below: