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Paddling For Wildlife In The San Diego River

Special Yearly Cleanup In River Estuary Nets Garbage Bonanza

Once a year a group of volunteers are given permission to clean up a unique stretch of the San Diego River. You can't tell from the shoreline, but the area is packed with an amazing amount of garbage.

The Southern Wildlife Preserve stretches along three miles of the San Diego River west of the Interstate-5 bridge and south of SeaWorld.

It is one of the last urban estuaries of its type remaining in California. This section of the river is home to endangered birds and a stop on the Pacific Flyway.

Once a year, volunteers working with the San Diego River Park Foundation, use kayaks and canoes to cleanup the river while other volunteers collect litter along the shoreline.

Rob Hutsel with The San Diego River Park Foundation says only 5 percent of the original coastal wetlands remain in California and this is one of those areas. It is also home to endangered birds.

"One of those is the clapper rail which is very endangered," said Hutsel. "Beautiful, you don't want to see the trash out there anything in there eventually makes it out to the ocean and onto our beaches."

Volunteers navigate the thick reeds in the estuary to remove tennis balls, plastic bottles and other trash.

There are a lot of tennis balls, plastic containers and other garbage hiding in the reeds.

You really can't see how much trash and litter is in the reeds of the estuary until you get in the water.

Matt Cochran of Poway found his share of plastic and other trash during the 2012 cleanup.

"I’ve got the making of balls...flipflops, Styrofoam," said Cochran "found a whole lunch!"

It is Cochran’s second year pulling trash from the estuary. He unloaded a full boat load and then paddled out to collect more.

Rob Hutsel with the River Park Foundation said the three-mile estuary serves as a sort of barometer for the overall health of the river.

"It's the end of the of the rest of the river...all pollutants in river washes down here and so it tells us how healthy it is."

He said they’re seeing less trash in the river, but still, the overall water quality for the river rates a "C" grade.

The numbers from this year's cleanup: 54 volunteers removed 1,200 pounds of trash, 107 pounds of recyclables (such as plastic) and the most unusual item was a message in a bottle.

Video by Nicholas McVicker

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