Sandy classrooms

Adam Spencer, The Triplicate

Effort providesteaching points

Del Norte teachers use the annual California Coastal Cleanup event as a perfect teachable moment, and not just about beach trash and pollution.

Hundreds of students descended on Del Norte beaches from Enderts to the Oregon border Friday, as part of the state cleanup effort. Many teachers had spent the week leading up to the day teaching students about the effects of pollution on wildlife and marine ecosystems.

"We're doing this so beaches will be cleaner and animals in the ocean won't eat debris and die, because their bodies can't ingest it," said Cynda Thao, a fifth-grader at Joe Hamilton Elementary School.

Hamilton fifth-graders from teacher Jim Hooper's class tackled the northern section of Pebble Beach.

"There's very little garbage this year, and that's a good thing," Hooper said.

Farther up the road, about 100 sixth-graders from Crescent Elk Middle School fanned out across the sandy southern stretch of Kellogg Beach starting at Point St. George. The kids found items like crabbing rope, shotgun shells and bits of styrofoam, all the while trying to not get distracted by the occasional dead sea lion.

Crescent Elk teacher Helen O'Connor, who lead the boisterous group, said the students were playing the role of "junior scientists," collecting data for the Ocean Conservancy by writing down a description of everything found.

Such volunteer efforts are crucial, O'Connor said, since the Ocean Conservancy couldn't possibly collect that much data on its own.

When kids participate in events like the cleanup it might also instill a lifelong appreciation for the environment, O'Connor said.

Crescent Elk teachers also used the field trip as an opportunity to point out the effects of erosion.All week, students learned how the ocean formed the sand dunes of Point St. George and the sea stacks typical to Del Norte.

"Kids studying erosion in the Midwest may never see the ocean, but we have this amazing outdoor classroom at our front door," O'Connor said. "You really can't beat it."

More than 1,000 students participated in the cleanup Friday, collecting 1,500-2,000 pounds of trash.

Statewide, more than 57,000 people took part in the cleanup on the official day last Saturday,removing 320 tons of debris, but high tides delayed Del Norte's cleanup by a week.

"The beaches were cleaner than we've ever seen them," said Crescent Elk teacher Joe Gillespie, who organized the student effort. "We picked up about half of what we normally do."

Reach Adam Spencer at aspencer@triplicate.com .

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