Are Our Beaches Being ‘Over-Groomed’ – and Killing Off Wildlife?

by on August 9, 2018 · 18 comments

in Ocean Beach

Ocean Beach. Photo by Jon Christiansen, 2014

The beaches in Ocean Beach certainly get their share of human trash. And the beaches here are also cleaned up – constantly, by city crews and by nearly weekly neighborhood clean-ups.

But are the beaches being kept too clean? Are they being groomed to death?

Some people are beginning to re-evaluate how and how often beaches need to be cleaned. Scientists and marine biologists raised the question of whether or not over-grooming urban beaches is killing off wildlife, in a new article in Hakai magazine, a magazine that takes a coastal perspective in exploring issues of science and the environment.

The article states:

While keeping our oceans and beaches clean of garbage is undeniably good for the environment, figuring out the best way to achieve that is complicated. Over 150 kilometers of Southern California beaches are regularly groomed, sometimes twice a day, and biologists and conservationists have begun to see the downside to tidiness.

You could call it the beach hygiene hypothesis. Just as humans may develop allergies from growing up germ-free, beaches are suffering from being too clean. Swept flat each day, the beach can become a biological desert, devoid of the rare plant and animal species that make the coastlines so special. Over two tonnes of decaying kelp get deposited on a kilometer of beach each day, a valuable resource for wildlife that is robbed by city cleanup crews on a daily basis.

For example, San Diego’s “beach mechanized team” grooms every city beaches and shoreline from Ocean Beach to La Jolla and all of Mission Bay every day of the week collecting and removing trash.

7SanDiego picked up the story, and reported a city spokesperson told them:

“We have three beach tractors we use to rake and screen the beaches and bays, three loaders we use to load and remove kelp and debris from the beaches and bays, two trash packers we use to dump trash barrels on the beaches and bays and four 10-yards dumps we use to load and move materials in.”

Then there’s the beach and community clean-ups by local groups, such as CSI-OB, the OB Pier Sunset cleanup crew, the scouring of Dog Beach by volunteers with Dog Beach Dog Wash. Then there’s the big groups, I Love a Clean San Diego, San Diego Coastkeeper and the Surfrider Foundation – they all have organized teams of volunteers who take on the Herculean task of cleansing the sand and shores. Some groups average about four clean-ups per month.

According to the San Diego Coastkeeper’s website, volunteers removed approximately 118,018 items of trash in 2017, which weighed 9,352 pounds total from along the coastline. The group collected mostly plastic, including cigarette butts, plastic foam and other plastic debris.

Local beach cleaners, despite these new concerns about “over-grooming”, still raise alarms that the amount of trash on beaches is growing – which is  being  collected overall. San Diego Coastkeeper reported 73,696 fewer trash items were collected in 2017 than in 2016. It stated on its website:

“While we applaud the increases pounds per volunteer effort this year and are heartened to see decreases in certain trash types, we are still troubled by the amount of debris being collected overall. The amount of trash on our beaches continues to be staggering, and despite the heartening decrease, there is still plenty of work left to be done.”

CSI-OB organizer Greg Crowley has also recently complained at public meetings that they’re finding more debris – and it’s getting worse.

Yet some cities are trying to look for the right balance between clean beaches and healthy beaches, such as Santa Monica, which is now one of the leaders in progressive beach grooming strategies, according to the Hakai article.

According to 7SanDiego, a city spokesperson told them San Diego is reviewing the new information about keeping San Diego’s beaches clean.


{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Tobin August 9, 2018 at 12:47 pm

“Haiki”? After borrowing so much of our article, you could at least spell our name correctly. We hope your readers will enjoy the original article.


Frank Gormlie August 9, 2018 at 1:07 pm

Tobin, sorry about that. Corrected your name. But hey, we didn’t use as much as 7SanDiego did. Plus we linked to the original article twice.


Tobin August 10, 2018 at 9:20 am

Thanks Frank! Good points.


Geoff Page August 9, 2018 at 2:46 pm

Jesus, I wish some people would just lighten the hell up. It seems that some people really enjoy nit-picking and are not polite about it. So, there was a mistake big deal. the article contained two links to the article as Frank said, which were correct. I doubt any reader would have noticed this small error. You people should be happy that The Rag was helping get more audience for you article. And, try a little tact next time instead of saying “you could at least spell or name correctly.”


tobin August 10, 2018 at 10:53 am

Geoff, thanks for your interest and opinion. The links in the above article have brought less than three visitors to our site, so while it is nice that the article provided the links, they probably won’t help to grow our audience. Name recognition is our only hope in this circumstance, so we feel it’s important to get our name right. We operate on a small budget, have no advertising, and pay our journalists well, as well as editors and fact checkers, so when our material is borrowed with no benefit to us, we need to reach out. In this case, the correction was made quickly and we’re grateful for that. Thanks for your understanding.


Geoff Page August 10, 2018 at 2:44 pm

Tobin, you said the link brought three people to the web site so how can you say The Rag brought no benefit to you? Who is to say what the effect of those three visits will be? The Rag’s articles are available for a long time and are often referenced by folks months or even years later. Your material is now out there on another site thanks to The Rag. Sure it is important to get a name right but it was right in the two links. As I said before, I doubt anyone but you noticed the difference in the link spelling and the mistake. All that aside, you have a right to ask for a correction but you did not do so in a polite manner. I did not see you respond to that comment of mine.


tobin August 10, 2018 at 6:17 pm

Geoff, we obviously have much to discuss! Please send your email address to me at and we can continue our dialogue through email. Looking forward to it. Thanks.


Tyler August 10, 2018 at 5:46 am

Uh..a few things:

1. they simply move the kelp down the beach in OB. They place it in large piles against the stump Jetty, at the rivermouth in large piles, and of course to create more dunes to PRESERVE growth of the eco system and wildlife. I’ve seen more birds, more gophers, etc each and every year.

2. They don’t rake everyday. Maybe 3x on crazy weeks in summer.


triggerfinger August 11, 2018 at 11:56 am

What’s the relevance of the beach cleanup crews? Seems to imply they are contributing to a problem.

Last I checked nobody volunteering is removing kelp or anything natural.


ZZ August 12, 2018 at 1:45 pm

The most immediate threat to wildlife I see in OB is unleashed dogs chasing sea birds around the river nature preserve. There are a bunch of signs that clearly mark where Dog Beach ends, but people break that law with impunity all day every day.


Geoff Page August 14, 2018 at 10:28 am

ZZ, illuminate me, I walk my dogs there a lot and I don’t recall seeing any sign much less “a bunch of signs” that says where Dog Beach ends.


ZZ August 14, 2018 at 12:03 pm

The signs don’t say “End of Dog Beach” they say something like “Wildlife Zone All Dogs Must Be Leashed”

Here is an example of one of many of those signs:

This sign marks the beginning of the off leash area:


Geoff Page August 15, 2018 at 2:21 pm

ZZ, you wrote “There are a bunch of signs that clearly mark where Dog Beach ends…” What you provided here does not have any information about where Dog Beach ends, only where it begins. There are no signs saying where it ends. Most users see the end as the eastern end where there is a channel separating the next stretch of sand. I don’t see how anyone is breaking the law with impunity. If there was an official “end” to Dog Beach, there would be signage and there isn’t any.


ZZ August 16, 2018 at 2:10 pm

Geoff, this is nuts, you sound like want to be the defense lawyer for these miscreants.
The idea that a sign saying this is the beginning of an off-leash area doesn’t mean the other side requires leashes is insane.

In any event, I am not talking about 1 foot away from Dog Beach, but the sandy area below the paved bike path along the river, smack in the middle of the wildlife refuge. There are signs all over the place saying area is a wildlife refuge and all dogs must be leashed. Yet more than 2/3 of the time I use the path to jog or bike, I see unleashed dogs.


Geoff Page August 17, 2018 at 10:26 am

I’m not defending anyone, ZZ. I’m just trying to get substantiation for what you have said. I’ve been going to Dog Beach for more than 30 years. It stretches from the ocean back to where that channel is I mentioned. Beyond that is a wildlife refuge but I don’t see anyone taking their dogs past that channel. You’re going to have to be more specific about the area you are talking about, how about a map or something so I can see what area you are talking about. The sign picture didn’t show where it was. They used to fence off an area for the least terns but they stopped that. That is the only area on Dog Beach I can think of that was off limits to dogs.


ZZ August 17, 2018 at 11:27 am

Geoff. I don’t see people specifically going from dog beach to the wildlife refuge. What I see is unleashed dogs all over the wildlife refuge that begins east of Dog Beach and extends up the river.

Here is a Google Maps link:

As to where the signs are, my recollection is there are three “All Dogs Must Be Leashed” signs along the river pathway near the main entrances to the refuge. But the sign issue is a red herring, as you don’t need a sign to tell you not to have an unleashed dog where large numbers of sea birds are walking around or resting.


RB August 17, 2018 at 1:07 pm

A few years back we put in posts and rope fencing at the direction of the River Foundation to keep humans and dogs on leashes out of native plants and bird nesting areas. I hope it is helping, even the most argumentative members of the community.


Geoff Page August 17, 2018 at 4:12 pm

What I, and everyone else considers to be Dog Beach stretches east in that aerial view to a line drawn from the first Robb Field tennis court on the south side of the river north across the river to where the Mission Bay entrance curves from east to north. I have never seen any signage that says dogs have to be leashed in this area. The seabirds have the entire river beyond this point to walk or rest unmolested. If the requirements were any different than I understand them to be, there would be active enforcement in this area and I have never seen any.


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