Casey’s Community Coastal Column: Year-End Review

Casey Cruikshank, Coastal Programs Coordinator

2020 has been an exciting year for Coastal Programs at the NEC. Now that we’re collecting data year-round (not just during Coastal Cleanup Day), we have a much bigger picture of our local debris issue and that picture will only become more clear as time moves forward and more individuals help us collect the data we need. Our current coastal programs contributing to data collection include: Adopt-A-Beach, Adopt-A-Block, Trashathon, Coastal Cleanup Day and Trash Trackers. Our latest addition of Trash Trackers is our entry-level Coastal Program at the NEC. Anyone, anywhere can download the App and be an instant participant. If you’re interested in signing up for the Trash Trackers program, please visit our website to sign up: 

LeeAnn Mozeak carries two tires found at a Samoa Beach cleanup. Photo by Aly Krystkowiak

We are actively working to make data collection simple and fun for all participants involved, and switching over to the NOAA Marine Debris Tracker App has proven to be the hot ticket. Not only are we able to track locally specific issues by using our own data list, but we’re seeing the numbers coming in much higher than last year which means we have more volunteers participating in debris removal and citizen science. Go team Humboldt! 

Let’s take a look at our Coastal Programs debris data from this year. As of November 10, citizen scientists have collected and submitted data on 41,038 individual pieces of debris around Humboldt County. Wow! So, what story is our debris data telling us? 


2020 Top Five Debris Items

2020 Top 5 Debris Items



  • Michael Pulliam, Trash-a-thon volunteer, on a neighborhood cleanup. Photo credit: Chelsea Pulliam

    Cigarette Butts – 10,495 removed

This year, our volunteers removed 10,495  cigarette butts from the streets and beaches. For every year that we have been collecting data, cigarette butts have been at the top of our list. This is not just a Humboldt County issue, this is a global issue. 





  • Nails, screws and staples – 10,313
Photo by Ren Brownwell

Thanks to Ren Brownell, a Trashathon volunteer sponsored by Humboldt Distillery, nails made an appearance in our 2020 top five items. In one afternoon she tackled Centerville beach with some buckets and a strong magnet, coming away with 32 pounds of nails, screws and stapleswhich brought her to a total of 10,257. We are grateful to Ren for shedding light on this specific issue through her data reporting. All of the nails, screws and staples were found in fire pits from individuals burning pallets and other objects on the beach. This is a common issue. Help us spread the word that fires leave a trace and rusty nails, screws and staples are an environmental hazard to beach-goers. 


  • A sampling of the firework waste found at Samoa Beach. Photo by Casey Cruikshank

    Fireworks – 5,655

We put out a call to our Coastal Cleanup volunteers to help us highlight the waste after the 4th of July and the results are shown in our data. With just a few volunteers, fireworks quickly skyrocketed to the third most common item based on the sheer amount of waste even just one firework can create. While fireworks put on a big show, there is a hefty environmental cost to be paid for this type of celebration. 

  • Plastic Food Wrappers – 2,419

Plastic food wrappers are some of the most common single-use plastics out there. Particularly with COVID regulations and every food item individually packed, we’re seeing a rise in food packaging waste on our streets and beaches. One way to combat this is to dine in and avoid the items that are over packaged. You can also check out our Reduce Single-Use pledge at and print out a handbill (see page 1) that you can bring to your favorite local restaurant to encourage its participation in reducing unnecessary waste. 

  • Beverage Cans – 616

I am always surprised when I find cans on the beach and streets considering they are recyclable and redeemable, however they’re a commonly littered item. Beverage cans are not just made out of aluminum, they commonly have plastic both on the interior and exterior. In the process of the can breaking down, the plastics enter the environment along with the rusting aluminum. If you see cans on the beach, remove them and report them on the NOAA Marine Debris Tracker App.


Behind the scenes, our amazing Coastal Programs intern, Ivy Munnerlyn, has been working to turn historical Coastal Cleanup Day paper data cards into digital data. This is no small feat! Thanks to her hard work we now have digital access to data all the way back to 2014. Over the last few months, we’ve taken that data and have been working with Michael Lee (also known as our Data Guru) to make the data available on the NEC website. The historical data can be found at Michael and I will be working together in the coming year to find patterns, make coastal cleanup data easily accessible, and share the stories that our data is telling us.

We are so grateful for our Coastal Programs volunteers and the many important roles that they fill. Whether you’re out in the field participating in debris removal or inputting data into our database, we couldn’t do it without you! Cheers to a new year full of environmental stewardship, citizen science and Coastal Programs success stories. 

Alix De Gravelle stands with pup Kali and an oyster basket on a cleanup with NorCalBeachClean. Photo by Casey Cruikshank