Sitting in the Sand on Swimmable California Day

On July 25, I sat in the sand in leather shoes, feeling sort of grumpy, squinting in the sun, picking up dozens of pieces of plastic litter.

Mixte does a lot to protect swimmable water through our work with organizations like San Diego Coastkeeper, Orange County Coastkeeper, Los Angeles Waterkeeper and Environmental Health Coalition. So on Swimmable California Day, the statewide celebration of the Clean Water Act, we took a break from the office to go appreciate the fruits of our work: the swimmable water of Ocean Beach.

We were out splashing and surfing on a sunny, warm weekday and life felt pretty good for everyone at Mixte. Except for me. I forgot my bathing suit.

So I sat in the sand, feeling sort of grumpy and jealous, picking up dozens and dozens of pieces of plastic litter in the few square feet within reach of my hands. Coastkeeper has taught me that these pieces of debris aren’t just carelessly littered at the beach — rain carries them to the coast from miles away through our gutters and storm drains. Each piece of plastic is joined by invisible but virulent bits of car oil, brake dust, lawn fertilizer, soaps, paints, bug sprays and more.

These unsustainable bits of modern living slowly gather and grow into poisons strong enough to make waters across the world less fishable, swimmable and drinkable. “Water connects us all,” sounds like an inspiring slogan, but in the case of urban runoff, it’s not such a good thing. When you realize that this connection to each other might also be the reason for our downfall at 2:30 p.m. on a sunny Wednesday, it’s hard to enjoy a day at the beach.

Here’s the thing: Water does connect us all. Even when Ocean Beach was serving as the dustpan of miles and miles of development, it was still swimmable. Just as much as our tiny indiscretions amass into a worldwide water infection, so can our tiny positive decisions. San Diego Coastkeeper volunteers rescue our water from thousands of pounds of trash each year. Just a couple hours on a Saturday morning, repeated by a hundred volunteers, twice a month, moves mountains of poisonous trash out of our world’s waters.

Each year, Coastkeeper teaches more people how to make everything from homes and buildings to parking lots and roads capture rain where it lands and filter pollution before it gets into our water. One by one, they heal the thousands of injuries to our water, working with industries and government bodies to transform illegal, polluting practices into environmental stewardship.

When you pick up a piece of trash, or point a rogue sprinkler back in the right direction (even if it’s not yours), it matters.

In the same way water connect us, communication does too. At Mixte, we get the privilege of sharing these stories so they reach ears across San Diego and the world, encouraging more and more of the world to upgrade the tiny, unsustainable parts of our lives into healing that benefits us all.

As I sat in the sand, I took all the bits of plastic litter, fishing line, cigarette butts and candy wrappers and tied them together, making something kind of beautiful out of trash. You’re smart and don’t need me to explain the metaphor. The important thing is to remember that whether good or bad, we’re all connected. That connection makes the tiny things we do have powerful consequences. Everything matters. So make your life a vote for a better world and you’ll make a difference.