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Orange County Coastkeeper's : The interview, keeping Our Beaches Clean

6 min read

Orange County Coastkeeper's : The interview, keeping Our Beaches Clean


A few weekend ago we got up at the crack of a very cold dawn to make our way down to a Misty Huntington Beach, to help Julia and her crew at Orange County Coastkeepers help keep our beaches and ocean clean by doing a comprehensive beach cleanup. 

And comprehensive it was!  Thinking we would most definitely be the first comers we were sadly mistaken, as we pulled into the parking lot to see what looked like north of 150 people already lugging bag after bag of trash (80lbs in total that day) up to the dump area on the beach. The scene made me realize two things.

  1.  We were not as early as we thought  and
  2.  What Coastkeepers is doing is a necessity and you need to get involved!! 

We chat to Orange County Coastkeepers Cleanup Coordinator Julia Williams on Beach cleanups, herself and how you can do your part to help.

Can you tell us a little about yourself?

My name is Julia Williams I am originally from Carbondale, Colorado and I moved to California four years ago. I am graduating from Chapman University this May with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science and Policy and a minor in Public Relations.

My favorite food is tacos and I love to be outside! Whether that is swimming, hiking, climbing, skiing, rafting or even just being a bum on the beach. I have always been passionate about the environment, I grew up in a small mountain town and spent almost all of my childhood outside.

I want all future generations to be able to experience that beauty as well, so I work hard to protect our natural resources.

What is your role with OC Coastkeeper and what ignited the spark in you to want to work with them?

I am the Cleanup Coordinator at Orange County Coastkeeper. I run all of our cleanup programs including our beach cleanups, creek cleanups, corporate cleanups and the annual Coastal Cleanup Day.

I found out about Coastkeeper last year when a past employee came and spoke at one of my classes. I love environmental stewardship and knew immediately that I wanted to work for Coastkeeper. I started as a Public Relations intern in April of 2015 and did social media over the summer. I came on staff in September to take over the Cleanup OC program.

How long have you been doing beach cleanups?

I have been doing beach cleanups with Coastkeeper for almost a year now, however, I have participated in other cleanup events throughout my life.

What is the coolest thing about your job? 

The coolest part of my job is being able to connect the Orange County community to each other and their local environment. I have learned that to inspire environmental behavior change, people must feel empowered and take ownership of problems like pollution.

Cleanup events are the perfect place to do that. Volunteers can make a visible difference by removing debris and understand how their lifestyle choices directly impact the local environment.

It is amazing how many people come up to me after a beach cleanup and exclaim about how they never noticed how much trash there was before. When people spend two hours of their day picking up hundreds of cigarette butts or pieces of plastic off of the beach, they are far less likely to litter in the future and make more environmentally friendly choices.

What is the worst thing about your job?

The worst part about my job is having to see the endless amounts of trash in our waters. It continues to astound me how much trash there really is. Even when you go out with 300 volunteers and clean for a couple of hours, you can still go walk around and still see so much trash.It is incredibly eye opening.

At first I found this depressing, but then over time I have realized that is the worst attitude you can have. It is easy for people to think that these issues are so large and complex that their choices won’t make a difference, but that is entirely untrue.

We can constantly work to better ourselves and work hard to make a better tomorrow, any problem can be an opportunity.

What are the biggest hurdles you have had to overcome?

A work specific hurdle is getting funding for the Cleanup OC program. We work hard to obtain grants and donations to keep our programs running, but figuring out new ways to fund them can be a challenge.

The biggest hurdles I have had to overcome is juggling school and working. Last semester I was taking 19 credits and working at Coastkeeper, learning how to keep a balanced life was a big learning experience.

What is your Ultimate dream for the company ?

My dream for Orange County Coastkeeper is to create a community of “coastkeepers” in who are educated on local environmental issues and are passionate about protect our coastal resources.

We want our waters to stay clean long after our programs have ended and the best thing way to do that is to build a community of people who care.

Worst thing you have ever picked up off the beach?

I think the worst and saddest thing to pick up from the beach is always needles. I love running barefoot on the beach and knowing I, or a child, could step on something so dangerous is scary.

ADDING ON TO THIS: COOLEST THING: We picked up a message in a bottle once, it was a love letter in Spanish from a woman to her husband.

Dirtiest beach (from your experience)

Huntington State Beach definitely gets a lot of trash because of its position next to the mouth of the Santa Ana River. 60-80 percent of marine debris and trash we find on the beaches comes from inland sources through urban runoff pollution.

As the creeks and channels drain into each other, these rivers carry large amounts of pollution that flows out into the Pacific. This is why we choose to do our beach cleanups at Huntington State Beach, so we can not only educate the public about urban runoff pollution, but clean the spots with the worst pollution.

Always remember to check https://www.theswimguide.org for updated water quality conditions and don’t swim in the ocean after a big rain.

Where is your favorite beach and Surf spot

My favorite beach is probably Thousand Steps Beach. I am a fan of smaller beaches and I love listening to the sound of the waves crashing against the rocks. The steps up and down are a great workout and you can get away from the noise of the PCH.

When I want to swim around or boogie board I like to go Newport. Unfortunately, I have only been surfing once and that was also in Newport, but I am not very good at it...Yet!

How can our readers help OC Coastkeeper?

Here are some ways you can help protect Orange County waters with Coastkeeper:

  • Volunteer. Join us at any of our cleanup or restoration events. We have a beach cleanup every second Saturday of the month at Huntington State Beach. Be on the lookout for our inland creek cleanups and restoration programs later this year. Additionally you can work your green thumb by volunteering at the Coastkeeper Garden or spend time at the beach documenting human activity as an MPA watch volunteer.
  • Intern. We have a variety of internship opportunities where you can help in our advocacy, communication and research efforts.
  • Donate. We are a nonprofit organization and all of our programs are funded through grants and donations. Anything helps, even $10 can fund cleanup supplies for 100 people at a beach cleanup or a new succulent plant for the Garden. We also host private corporate cleanups and local businesses can sponsor a monthly beach cleanup.
  • Be a “coastkeeper”. Your everyday lifestyle choices have a profound impact on the local environment. There are so many ways you can protect Orange County waters in your own life. Whether it is choosing not to use single use plastics, recycling or utilizing drought-tolerant landscaping, everything helps. If you see trash, pick it up even if it’s not yours and encourage your friends and family to do the same.
  • Learn more about what we do: http://www.coastkeeper.org

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