Almost 600 Orange County school kids took part in a beach cleanup and aerial art event in Huntington Beach for Kids Ocean Day.
HUNTINGTON BEACH⸺ For many, Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of summer, leading to packed beaches and increased waste found on our shores. Orange County Coast Keeper teamed up with Orange County students and the California Coastal Commission to combat plastic waste, clean up the beach, and find a shared joy in nature.
On May 28, OC Coast Keeper bused 552 students from nine elementary schools in inland Orange County to Huntington Beach to participate in the statewide Kids Oceans Day.
Students picked up 115.14 pounds of trash before working together to create a human aerial artwork display spelling out “Share Joy” to fit with the theme of the event Discovering Joy in Nature.
This is the 20th iteration of the event and the first to be in person in over two years.
The program started as a cleanup program in Los Angeles over 20 years ago before adding the aerial art component after an artist was inspired by the kid’s dedication to cleaning up the coast.
“An artist found out about the cleanup and felt inspired to add this art component,” said Orange County Coastkeeper Deputy Director of Programs Dyana Peña. “Especially feeling so inspired that all these kids were taking action and wanted to give them an outlet to then take that action and send a greater message to their communities.”
A theme is picked by the coordinators early in the year, and then a design is created on graph paper before it is measured to size on a grid in the sand.
The students then fill in the grid to create the message, and a drone is flown over the piece of art to take the photo.
The photo is printed onto a postcard which is dropped off to the students as a memento of the day and celebrates their ability to take action and inspire those around them.
“I got to address the students while they were sitting in the aerial art and just reminded them how much they inspire me and how much their actions matter and their lives matter,” said Peña. “And just if they ever feel like they can’t do it, they can always look at the postcard of this and always remember they have this community behind them.”
Kids Ocean Day is focused on reaching out to students who come from underprivileged communities who have more hurdles when it comes to accessing the California coastline.
The idea is to give kids the opportunity to interact with the coastline and learn about the importance of coastal stewardship. They can create a connection and inspire another generation of ocean advocates and stewards.
“It is important to help provide these experiences whenever possible, and I really hope that now that our students have visited the beach, they will hopefully want to visit again soon,” said Peña. “…It helps to maybe inspire them to protect it, and that is just the bonus. I am just really happy that they had a good day yesterday.”
Peña has been involved with the event for ten years, starting as a volunteer with Coastkeeper and then as an intern before taking a job in the education department.
Over the years, Peña has seen several themes for the event, which revolve around inspiration and creating a reminder that we are connected to our oceans and are tasked with taking care of them.
Favorites include defend the sea, our one ocean, and one year they asked the kids what they thought the ocean and the ocean creatures were saying, so they created a photo of a little girl listening to a conch shell that said, “save my home.”
Peña and the other members of this event find inspiration in the student’s zeal to help the environment. They hope to spread a bit of inspiration themselves and encourage the next generation of stewards.
“This is my absolute favorite program of the year,” said Peña. “Especially just because of how much I see the event inspires our students and so it is so fun for me and so rewarding to get to see that, and maybe they will see themselves in these roles in the future.”