From my lookout over the San Simeon coast, the elephant seals looked like cigars — their long, brown bodies splayed side-by-side on the beach below. I strained to see past the blubber and protruding proboscises for a green scar on the neck of one male — a mammal called “Green Tie” because of the mark left from a deeply embedded packing strap.
It was 2011 when rescuers from the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito found the distressed seal and surgically removed the plastic that was choking him. If someone had simply cut the strap in half and disposed of it properly, this wouldn’t have happened.
“Green Tie” has recovered and was recently seen at the rookery four miles north of Hearst Castle. And although I didn’t spot him, it got me thinking about the fragile nature of the ocean and marine life and how California’s Central Coast has incorporated stewardship into its vacation experience.
Stewardship Travel invites visitors to help keep the coast clean along California’s Highway 1 Discovery Route.
It stretches from Ragged Point, the entry to Big Sur, south past the Elephant Rookery, Cambria, Morro Bay and down to just past Oceano.
I once lived in Pismo, so I’m keenly aware of what it takes to keep beach towns clean — especially in summer when there’s an influx of visitors from the steamy Central Valley.
Pulling into Cambria, my first stop was the chamber of commerce, where I picked up a canvas cleanup kit, complete with gloves, trash bag and checklist. I was walking the beach anyway, so it was no problem picking up a little litter along the way.
Cambria is one of those charmingly rural communities where everyone pitches in. Folks are so aware of stewardship, here, they call it “squibbing” after Paul and Louise Squibb — civic leaders in the 1950s who combed the streets picking up litter.
Further south in Cayucos, Steve Hennigh at Good Clean Fun takes kayakers on remote beach paddles where they collect marine debris.
“There’s always something that washes in — from glass floats and Japanese fishing nets to broken apart boats to the common thing — plastic wrappers, bottle caps or cigarette butts,” he says.
The concept of Stewardship Travel along the Highway 1 Discovery Route isn’t just about beach litter.
At Stolo Family Winery in Cambria, 40 visitors planted vines as a stewardship activity during Savor the Central Coast.
In town, Cambria’s Fiscalini Ranch Preserve has docent tours and cleanup days where visitors can understand and protect the ecosystem of Monterey Pines, wildflowers and wildlife (including more than 182 species of birds) on this extraordinary property.
As California continues to grow, the conversation is turning to how we can protect our many resources. The Highway 1 Discovery Route has found an answer through its Stewardship Travel.