Smith River Alliance Keeps Del Norte Clean

Smith River Alliance

Smith River Alliance and Tolowa Dee-Ni’ Nation coordinated two different cleanup efforts in Northern and Central Del Norte County for California Coastal Cleanup Day on Saturday, September 17, 2022. Close to 3.25 tons were removed along the California coast and sensitive wildlife areas, much of which were left behind from illegal dumping and abandoned campsites located in sensitive coastal areas. Burned pieces of scrap metal, large wooden pallets, synthetic flooring and old cloths were some of the many things recovered along the beach and sensitive coastal areas. Photos courtesy of Smith River Alliance.

Trash is a serious problem in our waterways and ocean, which harms wildlife through contamination and ingestion. Regardless of where you live, you have probably seen trash in your community. Although this is a common everyday occurrence, it is a concerning issue that we need to address as a community. 

The Nature Conservancy estimates that 11 million tons of trash enter our oceans each year. Much of this trash enters the ocean through our beaches, rivers and waterways, which can be harmful to animals and humans. This kind of trash isn’t what most people expect it to be; the majority of trash found in our waterways consists of household items that we use every day. 

Items such as plastics break down in the sun, contaminating water by becoming microplastics and being consumed by fish. Used styrofoam take-out containers float in the ocean before being picked and eaten by birds. Left-behind fishing line and lures entrap seals and wildlife, creating a life-threatening situation. There are many ways we can help relieve this problem from reusing and recycling, but this does not address trash that has already found its way into our waterways. 

In 2022, the Smith River Alliance ramped up its efforts in protecting and conserving the Smith River watershed through coastal and river cleanups throughout the entire county of Del Norte. Funded by the WHALE TAILS Grant Program, with the help of volunteers, have collected more than seven tons of trash and debris along the California Coast and Smith River. Much of this trash was found either alongside the Smith River, Elk Creek Wildlife Area, or the Pacific Ocean, where if left unchecked, it would have eventually found its way into our waterways. 

Volunteers removed close to 3.25 tons of trash and debris on California Coastal Cleanup Day in Del Norte County on Saturday, September 7, 2022. Smith River Alliance and Tolowa Dee-Ni’ Nation coordinated two different cleanup efforts in northern and central Del Norte County to remove trash left behind from illegal dumping and abandoned campsites along the California Coast.

In coordination with California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Del Norte High School, Redwood National and State Parks, Tolowa Dee-Ni’ Nation and Tolowa Dune Stewards, more than 180 volunteers collected an estimated 16,525 lbs of trash in 2022 alone. 

The majority of trash and debris collected comes from illegal dumping and abandoned illegal campsites in sensitive wildlife areas, such as Elk Creek Wildlife Area. Elk Creek’s wetlands and streams provide ideal rearing habitat for salmonids (particularly Southern Oregon/Northern California Coast Coho Salmon), as well as an ideal habitat for other wildlife and plant communities. 

“I am amazed by the turnout of volunteers and community members interested in keeping our sensitive coastal areas clean of trash and debris” said Gustavo Vasquez, program associate with the Smith River Alliance. “The work we are doing to steward the Smith River Watershed and removing trash that can be harmful to wildlife wouldn’t be possible without volunteers from the community.” 

Part of this effort by Smith River Alliance includes coordinating the Adopt-A-Beach program in Del Norte County. It is similar to CalTrans’ Adopt-A-Highway program, but focuses on California’s coast and waterways. 

Community members do not need to wait for Smith River Alliance events to help keep their communities and coastline free of trash. Individuals and groups can host their own cleanups using the CleanSwell App that can be downloaded on a smartphone. The app can coordinate events and can also be used to track what is being found. Signing up for your local regional Adopt-A-Beach program provides individuals and groups supplies and training to keep their coastal communities clean, and information about where to properly dispose of what is found. 

It’s not about the amount of trash or the size of trash that matters, but more about the combined effort of keeping our coastal communities clean. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is finding that the most common trash being found on our coastlines is broken bottles, plastic toys, food wrappers and cigarette butts. In Del Norte County, we are finding these same common items on our beaches, and in our rivers and waterways. 

Do your part to keep our beautiful beaches and waterways clean. If we don’t pick up after ourselves and protect our wildlife, who will? 

To learn more about Smith River Alliance and to participate in a cleanup in Del Norte County, go to or contact Gustavo Vasquez, Program Associate at 

Not in Del Norte County? Learn more about ways to help protect and keep our coastal areas clean by going to the California Coastal Commission’s website at If you are in Humboldt County you can visit to find more information about local cleanups.