When Jay Olson showed up at Avila Beach on Tuesday morning to photograph the sunrise, he expected to find some trash along the beach — but nothing like what greeted him.
“I tend to head out early after the weekend so I can put up some trash before I take photos,” said Olson, a local photographer who also runs a popular Enjoy Avila Beach website and Facebook page. “I thought it would be bad, but I had no idea.”
Three hours later, he had filled 11 trash bags with garbage left on the beach from Memorial Day weekend revelers.
The bags were filled with receipts and tags for beach chairs, beer bottles, cans, cigarette butts, Styrofoam and cardboard food containers, plates, napkins, condoms and clothes, Olson said. (The weirdest thing he saw were the numerous half-eaten corn cobs, he said.)
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Olson said there also were broken chairs, umbrellas and pop-up tents left behind.
“I’ve seen the beach really dirty a lot before, especially after big weekends. But it seemed like a bunch of people just up and left their spot and left all their trash behind,” he said. “I’ve never seen the level of disrespect before. It seems to be becoming a thing, and I don’t want to see it in Avila.”
Olson posted a picture of the trash to his Facebook page Tuesday morning, and by the afternoon it had elicited more than 4,600 reactions.
Trash on San Luis Obispo County beaches after a holiday weekend is nothing new: Avila, Morro Bay, Pismo Beach and the Oceano Dunes have all been lined with trash in the aftermath of a summer holiday over the years. Many local residents even plan cleanups following those celebrations to help tidy up the beaches.
Though many get upset in the wake of a long weekend and blame tourists for the trash left behind, Avila Beach Paddlesports owner Vincent Shay said it isn’t just tourists littering — it’s everyone.
“I think we all just need to do a better job picking up our trash, you know?” he said. “As more people get stoked on coming here and being here, the trash is going to build up.”
As an Avila Beach business owner, Shay said he hopes more businesses can come together to help encourage tourists and residents alike to pick up their trash, and to add more trash cans on the beach.
As more people get stoked on coming here and being here, the trash is going to build up.
Vincent Shay, Avila Beach Paddlesports owner
Shay said he also thinks there needs to be more awareness that the trash on the beach isn’t just an aesthetic concern — it impacts the wildlife as well.
On Sunday morning, Shay said he noticed a group of otters playing near Harford Pier, and one was holding something that caught his eye: a Crown Royal whisky bottle.
“It was just so impactful,” Shay said. “The otters are picking up our trash.”
Shay said the otter was intently trying to open up the small bottle.
“It’s a bummer, because I think we’d all rather see otters playing with things they’re going to eat or tools they use, not that,” he said.
Shay now plans to hang the pictures in his shop, with the words “Please don’t trash Avila Beach,” printed on it to help raise awareness about littering in the area.
“Everyone loves sea otters,” he said. “But to see a photo with one of them playing with our trash, I guarantee that that will change some people’s minds about littering.”