Congratulations, Cardiff

Cardiff State Beach is officially San Diego County’s dirtiest beach

It sure doesn't look dirty from here. Photo: McGuinness

It sure doesn’t look dirty from here. Photo: McGuinness

After a year's worth of beach cleanups with the San Diego Coastkeeper and the Surfrider Foundation, Cardiff State Beach in Encinitas was distinguished as the dirtiest in the San Diego. Cardiff's "award" comes from the average of more than 4 pounds per volunteer picked up and removed from the sand each event, compared to 0.58 pounds per volunteer collected from La Jolla Shores, San Diego's cleanest beach this year.

Data sheets given to volunteers at each cleanup help the groups note, track, and collect information on the amount and type of refuse found at each beach. This generates the stats necessary for campaigns like Surfrider's “Hold On To Your Butt” anti-cigarette littering initiative. This year, the volunteers collected precisely 58,236 cigarette butts and 4,418 plastic bags from the sands of San Diego beaches alone.

So how does a beach become the "dirtiest"? After each cleanup, group members weigh the amount of trash collected and come up with a total weight of the cleanup's accumulation. In December, they crunch the numbers from every cleanup and determine the dirtiest beach of the year.

"Beach cleanups are not a perfect science," admitted Kristin Kuhn, community engagement coordinator for San Diego Coastkeeper. That's why they use a metric to determine trash density, based on the average weight waste collected per volunteer, rather than total trash removed from the sand. In fact, Moonlight Beach had the most refuse carried away--a total of 1,011 pounds of garbage was removed in 2013--but there were more volunteers to remove it, so the density metric ranks it lower.

In some ways, "dirtiest" also could mean, "most loved." Volunteers who came out to Cardiff cleanups collected more trash than volunteers at other spots. Said Kuhn, "Cardiff stood out in our end-of-year analysis because the people who showed up for the cleanups there love that beach so much that they really dug in and went the extra mile."

The ranking has only been around since about 2007, and some past "winners" have been Mission Beach, Ocean Beach, and Pacific Beach. More important than which beach is crowned "dirtiest" is the troubling finding that overall, San Diego beaches are filthier than they were last year. According to data from both Surfrider and San Diego Coastkeeper, more than 9,500 pounds of garbage were removed from beaches this year, almost 2,000 pounds more than last year. The most common trash collected? Cigarette butts. Though, they are down by more than 14,000 this year. "Most of the trash we find out there is small, but not at all innocuous," said Kuhn. "Nobody likes picking up someone else’s trash, but as surfers, swimmers, fishers, paddlers, and beachgoers who love our coast, we all should do our part to protect its health and our own."

There are steps that inspired citizens can take to ensure that Cardiff only holds this grimy title for one year. "Come out to a cleanup," encouraged Kuhn. "Each beach, no matter how clean it looks at first glance, needs some love."

Inspired to help clean up in the new year? Check out the 2014 Beach Cleanup Schedule at