Successful Shoreline Cleanup Marks the Launch of Goal: Clean Seas Channel Islands and Removes 131 Lost Lobster Traps

Photo credit: Molly Troup

On a bright Thursday morning in late July, two local Santa Barbara commercial lobstermen and their crews left harbor to cross the Santa Barbara Channel in their respective vessels. But on this day, they weren’t looking for lobster. They, along with a crew from Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, were looking for marine debris. 

Over two days, July 30 and 31,  18 cleanup participants successfully removed 6,440 pounds of marine debris from a mile-long stretch of shoreline on Santa Cruz Island. Most of the debris recovered consisted of 131 lost lobster traps, the majority of which looked to be four years or older, before the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s trap tagging program was implemented. Other debris collected and disposed of included foam fishing buoys, rope, and miscellaneous plastics. The project marked the inaugural cleanup of the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation’s Goal: Clean Seas Channel Islands initiative to keep the waters of Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary healthy and thriving.

On Thursday, the two lobster boats captained by veteran Santa Barbara lobstermen, Sam Shrout and Chris Voss, and the Santa Barbara Channelkeeper vessel captained by Ben Pitterle, also a member of the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, left Santa Barbara Harbor to make the 30 mile (or 26 nautical mile) journey across the Santa Barbara Channel to Yellowbanks, a rocky shoreline on the south side of Santa Cruz Island.  The cleanup crew kayaked from their respective vessels to the shoreline, where they spent the day collecting lost lobster traps from the cobblestones and collecting smaller marine debris in bags below the mean high tide line. Manageable bags of debris were loaded up and kayaked off the shoreline to one of the vessels waiting offshore, while larger piles of lost lobster traps were tied together and floated out to the lobster boats via hydraulic pulley. Once they filled up all three vessels with as much debris as they were able to safely carry, they returned to Santa Barbara Harbor, where a 40-yard roll-off container was waiting. Eighty-six lost lobster traps (both intact and estimated from fragments) were collected along with a variety of other marine debris, totaling 3,700 pounds of trash.

On Friday, one lobster boat and its cleanup crew returned to Yellowbanks to collect the remaining lost traps and debris they weren’t able to carry the day before. Forty-five lost traps and miscellaneous debris were brought back to Santa Barbara Harbor, filling another 40-yard container with 2,740 pounds of debris.

Data on the numbers and types of debris collected were recorded in NOAA’s Marine Debris Tracker app.

The waters of Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary are some of the state of California’s most productive fishing grounds. Sanctuary and Foundation staff and local commercial lobstermen are proud to collaborate and work together to clean up marine debris. The Sanctuary is grateful this cleanup was still made possible through their partnerships with the lobstermen and Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, who were able to safely operate under CDC guidelines. 

While collaborative shoreline cleanups have been carried out at the Channel Islands on an ad hoc basis for the past 20 years, this particular effort represents the launch of Goal: Clean Seas Channel Islands, a new initiative funded by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation based on a successful marine debris cleanup model in the Florida Keys. Another cleanup is scheduled in the Channel Islands for September in association with the California Coastal Cleanup month.

Photo credit: Molly Troup