In August of 2015, members of the Ventura County chapter of the Surfrider Foundation headed down to Ventura’s beaches for their monthly cleanup, when a volunteer noticed something odd along the beach from C Street to Surfers Point: an absurd amount of plastic accumulated in the area in numbers greater than on surrounding beaches. The plastic was an odd shape and size, small red and white objects, and was unlike any other plastic the cleanup crew had come across before.

Upon further investigation, the volunteers discovered a surprising culprit: fireworks. Specifically, the fireworks display that takes place over 10 days during the annual Ventura County Fair.

In July 2016, Surfrider presented its evidence to the Ventura County Fair Board. After the meeting, the Board discussed the issue with the vendor in charge of the fireworks, Zambelli Fireworks, and prior to the Ventura County Fair’s launch on Aug. 3 that year, three guidelines were installed: the first being that the vendor would remove plastic components of the fireworks prior to launch; the second, the vendor would tie off ignition wire so as to prevent it from launching with the display; and finally, the vendor would perform morning site-checks to remove any remaining debris.

By Surfrider’s accounts, the first couple of days of the Fair display went well with no visible debris washing ashore. By the morning of Aug. 7, however, debris began to find its way to the beach near the Ventura Pier, specifically, small white pieces of plastic entangled in kelp. The numbers increased over the next few days and the Surfrider Foundation alerted the Ventura County Fair Board.

The cleanup efforts were extended, resulting in what Surfrider called “a major reduction of these plastic pieces being found at the tide line, in kelp and in the rocks.”

Despite the cleanup, for several days after the fair ended, pieces of fireworks debris were found as far south as Pierpont and Marina Park.

Now, as the 142nd iteration of the Ventura County Fair begins, after many months of planning, the Surfrider Foundation and the Ventura County Fair Board have worked and prepared for this year’s fireworks in hopes that there will be zero debris found when the fair concludes.

Bill Hickman, Southern California regional manager of the Surfrider Foundation, says that debris found after last year’s fair came as a surprise to him and the Fair board.

“The vendor said they were surprised there still was debris, and when they looked at the fireworks, they noticed that their supplier had added a piece of plastic where they hadn’t before,” said Hickman, adding that this year the guidelines created in 2015 would still apply. “It remains to be seen how it will all play out, but they made great strides last year.”

“We worked closely with Surfrider to create our cleanup methods,” said Barbara Quaid, CEO of the Ventura County Fairgrounds. “We have a maintenance crew scheduled daily for cleanup of the fireworks area, and the fireworks crew also works to clean up after the presentations.”

Hickman says that the key to stopping plastic pollution from entering the ocean and ending up on beaches or consumed by a marine animal is to stop it at the source. Surfrider’s monthly cleanups have attracted well over 100 volunteers on the fourth-Saturday meetups, says Hickman; but at the same time, the amount of plastic debris being collected from all sources is on the rise.

In 2016, Surfrider Foundation’s Ventura County chapter held 12 beach cleanups, 11 of which were held at C Street/Surfers Point in Ventura, and one at Ormond Beach in Oxnard. A total of 4,028 pounds of trash was collected for the year.

Plastic items made up 20 percent of the trash collected (Cigarette butts accounting for 59 percent, though this can be attributed to collection methods that were different from previous years), with plastic food containers and wrappers accounting for 5 percent total.

Ryan Power, coordinator of the beach cleanups for the Ventura chapter of Surfrider, says that his goal for 2018 is to double the number of beach cleanups with the help of community partners such as Patagonia, who partnered with Surfrider to gather volunteers for a beach cleanup in July following the annual Surf Rodeo; and the Lions Club, which assisted post-Independence Day on July 5.

The next beach cleanup is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 26, at C-Street/Surfers Point in Ventura from 9 to 11 a.m. If beachgoers happen to find plastic fireworks debris, Hickman says that they can take photos and tag Surfrider on social media using #SurfriderVC. For more information, and more on how to volunteer, visit ventura.surfrider.org.