A volunteering story by: Diane Damplo

There’s a beautiful bucolic sanctuary near where I live in La Costa, CA called the Batiquitos Lagoon. My husband and I are members of the Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation which is chartered to preserve the area. Membership doesn’t really afford you anything special, other than an occasional newsletter that provides the same information that you can discern from driving by the lagoon itself. But it does help fund the not for profit effort and we are more than happy to make a small contribution.
The lagoon area is quite protected. There are lovely walking paths that surround it but no one is allowed in or on the water. However, once a year the Foundation makes an exception, and this exception is when my volunteer spirit comes alive.
One weekend a year the Foundation sponsors a lagoon kayak clean-up. Groups of kayaks (the vessels are provided by a local boating company) are led by a guide around the lagoon to pick up trash from the water and the water’s edge. We are provided with a number of tools to help with the clean-up. You can sort of choose your “weapons of choice.” There are tools that poke the trash to bring it into the boat and tools that can pinch and grab the trash. There are also nets to scoop up debris and bags in which to deposit the debris. We are advised to wear hats to protect us from the sun and work gloves to protect our hands from blisters. We need to pay a nominal fee of $20 per boat to participate. You don’t need to be a member of the lagoon foundation to participate.
We sometimes go with our neighbors. We like to bond and play with their two little girls and the kayaking is an opportunity for all of us to get together. We switch partners so to speak. Only two people can fit in each boat.
Each group is allowed just one hour in which to work but believe me, one hour is more than enough. We are usually exhausted and spent by the time the hour is up. Different groups are led in different directions. There is no way any one group could cover the whole lagoon. I prefer a direction that leads us toward a highway, the Interstate Route 5 because you get to go under a bridge. You are only under the highway for a short time but the girls enjoy the echoes that the atmosphere creates.
We are encouraged (in fact the guides insist) to stick together as a group as best we can. The water is not very deep and the experience isn’t the least bit scary, but the guides are still responsible for our safety and it is easier to keep an eye on us if we don’t stray too far. There are usually about ten boats per group.
It may seem odd, but it is especially rewarding to be one of the first groups out on Saturday morning because there is more trash to choose from. if you are one of the last groups to go out on Sunday afternoon you sometimes barely get a few pieces of plastic.
You are not allowed to step out of the boats when you are near the shore but everyone once in a while the little girls can’t resist when there is something like an empty can just out reach. They’ll look around furtively to make sure the guide isn’t looking, duck and run to get the item and race back to the boat. Thankfully, none of us has ever tipped or fallen in. The boats are quite sturdy and in fact last year when we went we had kayaks that didn’t even require oars. You could use oars as a supplement if you wanted but otherwise the boat had peddles, much like a recumbent bike. The kayak also had a lever in the back for steering.
We find a lot of plastic, plastic bags, takeout food wrappings, cans, bottles and tennis balls (likely from someone playing fetch with their dogs at the beach). We also find golf balls as there is a golf course nearby. One crew (not ours) once pulled out a motorcycle. We did come upon an easy chair once at the water’s edge, but we suspect it was put there deliberately by a fisherman. Once, my husband pulled out a large green trash bag. The way it was shaped and soaked we first thought it was a dead body. The children were a little scared initially but they were eventually able to laugh about it.
When we get home we are usually mud-splashed and tired. We enjoy a long warm bath or shower and we treat ourselves to a special post volunteering meal. We say a special prayer and recount the day.

The Inspiration

I’ve always been an advocate for the environment. God blessed us with this beautiful earth and we should do all we can do to preserve and protect it. Enjoying the earth’s bounty is a privilege and not a right. We sometimes take its gifts for granted, everything from nourishment and clean air to potable water. The earth gives us life.
My husband and I were early adopters of the Toyota Pruis Hybrid. These cars are very popular right now and can be seen everywhere, but when we bought our car in 2004 these hybrids were scarce. We were on a waiting list with a dealership for quite some time and even had to cancel our place in line when a car finally became available at an Enterprise Renal Car Facility one hundred miles north of where we live. My husband was originally more inspired than I was at the time to purchase such a statement car. In fact, I didn’t really like the car at first. It didn’t suit my “style” – driving it was like wearing the wrong pair of shoes but I eventually came to appreciate what it had to offer. It automatically switches seamlessly between the combustion engine and battery power, using less gas/scare world resources and when you stop at a stop sign or stop light the engine shuts off completely, not adding pollution or poisonous CO2 to the air. What could be wrong with that picture?
A similar thought process drives me when I volunteer at the Batiquitos Lagoon. I’m not sacrificing a Saturday. This really isn’t about extra work or extra cost; it’s a no-brainer.

The Aha! moment…

I learned to appreciate that your home is more than the address at which you live. As my father in law, God rest his soul, used to say, “My home is where I lay my hat and I haven’t been without one since.” Is it really so important that we accumulate so much “stuff” that has no functional purpose? Believe me, I believe in things like art for the sake of art, music that soothers the soul and the need for other esoteric things that beatify our lives emotionally. But we create so much useless and short-lived things like packaging and single use bottles and cans that no one else will use but us. it certainly seems a little overboard and selfish when you think about it.
Most of the trash we retrieve in the lagoon wasn’t originally dropped into it directly. It gravitates there from the Pacific Ocean via the tides. I’ve learned that everything we hold in our hands and don’t dispose of properly stays with us. We own it. So much of the plastic and other trash that we pile into our landfills will survive on this earth for many more years than we will. That’s a scary thought.
I also learned that sharing a volunteer experience likes this magnifies the rewards. When we set off from shore and all paddle and work together it is as if we are team with a common goal. It’s not a contest to see who accumulates the most debris or most interesting trash.

To summarize it in three words…

  • earth, neighborhood, pristine

Why should you do this

I would absolutely recommend this type of volunteer effort to other people. First of all, it affords you a wonderful workout. Who doesn’t like to Kayak in the warm California sunshine? But more importantly it is quite a feel good experience. You know the expression “That which is measured gets done?” There’s something particularly gratifying when you can grab a piece of trash and pull it out of the water or pick it from the water’s edge. It’s tangible, there’s no question that it was an accomplishment. Debris was where it shouldn’t have been and no it isn’t. There’s a feeling of pride when you turn your bag of trash in.

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