How one artist is cleaning up the beach 20 minutes at a time

Sara Bayles at an art show of her photographs.
Sara Bayles at an art show of her photographs.

Artist and writer Sara Bayles didn’t know the act of grabbing a bag before going on a beach walk in March 2009 was going to change her life.

It was mid-week and she had some spare time. Sara had wanted to join Surfrider Foundation for one of their beach clean-ups but she always had scheduling conflicts. “The idea hit me. Why am I waiting for an organization? Why don’t I just go on a walk and pick up the garbage I see?” Sara said.

When Sara went to Santa Monica beach between pier 26 and pier 28 that day six years ago, she was shocked. “I found a lot of trash,” Sara said. As an artist she wanted to use her creative abilities to let people know about what she had seen. Her first idea was to do a beach clean-up every day for a year, take pictures of what she found and have a photography show at the end.

A group on a beach clean-up.
A group on a beach clean-up.

Her husband, Garen Baghdasarian, a marine biologist and professor at Santa Monica College, suggested that she treat the project like a scientific field study and obtain data that could convey what she was encountering on more than a visual level. Ultimately, Sara did a little of both. She gave herself the assignment to collect whatever trash she could find in the course of 20 minutes, each day, for 365 non-consecutive days. She photographed and weighed her findings then posted the information on The Daily Ocean, a blog she created especially for the project.

“I set the goal without really understanding what I was getting myself into,” Sara said. What started as a solo journey did not end that way. People on the beach took notice of the woman picking up trash. Strangers joined in. Others in places as far away as Germany and New Zealand read her blog and asked for advice on how to do their own clean-ups. Sara still marvels at how she ended up in the middle of a movement. “I went to art school. I’m not an environmental biologist. Perhaps passion educates you and when you’re doing it with integrity, then your voice has some weight to it.” she said.

Six years later Sara says her idea of what can be accomplished in 20 minutes has changed. She once thought of it as two taps of the snooze button or the amount of time it takes to dry her hair. To date, by doing nearly 400 beach clean-ups, 20 minutes at a time, Sara has picked up nearly 1,400 pounds of trash.

Since Sara started The Daily Ocean blog, reports have revealed there are an estimated 269 tons of plastic in the world’s oceans and approximately eight million additional tons making their way there annually.

None of it deters Sara. “It’s true there’s a lot of bad stuff to focus on. But, if you take action along changing something and that makes you feel better, then world’s a better place.”

sara photographing trash
Sara photographs and weighs all the garbage she collects.
sunset thru plastic lid
The sunset shines through a plastic lid.
Sara-Bayles-yellow-bug
A plastic toy in the sand.
plastic shovel in sand
An abandoned plastic shovel.

 

Comments

  1. George Bell
    Jul 03, 2015, 5:55 am

    Yes, I haven't heard about that. There are a few people that could do the same. Most of them will probably turn back and leave that as they have seen it. Maybe if professional cleaners involve, the problem will be resolved soon.

  2. Gretchen Pusch
    Apr 15, 2015, 2:01 pm

    Thanks Brigid and Sara! Inspired and inspiring.

  • Derek Santa Monica

    Thank you for doing what you do. I thought I was the only one weird enough to do this regularly. Hearteningly, people I run into seem to appreciate my picking up beach trash, the occasional person even contributing by contributing a piece or two. I vacillate between thinking I should pick up the most volume of trash, snack bags, foam bowls and cups, etc., and policing up the pervasive little bits and shards of plastic that take so much time to collect. I could spend 20 min cleaning up just a few square meters of sand. I know these efforts will never actually get the beach totally clean, but it’s good therapy moving in that direction.

  • Samantha B

    So awesome and inspiring! Such a great story :)

  • Stephanie Ross

    I love this piece! More from Bigid Kelly please and more about Sara Bayles!

  • Emma Leheny

    Bravo, KCRW for featuring this inspiring, humble activist. Because of Sara, I pick up trash whenever I’m at the water’s edge, anywhere.

  • Gretchen Pusch

    Thanks Brigid and Sara! Inspired and inspiring.

  • Meri Pritchett

    Lovely story. Lovely editing. More from Brigid Kelly please!

  • Yes, I haven’t heard about that. There are a few people that could do the same. Most of them will probably turn back and leave that as they have seen it. Maybe if professional cleaners involve, the problem will be resolved soon.