Heal the Bay Protects Local Beaches and Waterways

Heal the Bay volunteers are dedicated to keeping beaches like this one in Southern California clean. 

Millions of people visit Southern California’s beaches every year. Heal the Bay, an environmental nonprofit based in Santa Monica, is dedicated to protecting those beaches and coastal waters.

Environmentalist Dorothy Green founded Heal the Bay in 1985. She was angered that her brother had been exposed to toxic waste in a creek that runs into Santa Monica Bay.

Green enlisted friends and neighbors to help clean up local waterways. The organization’s mission has since grown. It includes advocating for stronger public health measures and climate change action, and banning single-use plastic products, such as straws and cups. An aquarium at the Santa Monica Pier educates visitors about the local marine life worth protecting. 


Each year, at least 14 million tons of plastic end up in the world’s oceans.


I recently spoke with Tracy Quinn, Heal the Bay's president and chief executive officer. In 2022, she said, the organization had more than 22,000 volunteers. Last year, volunteers dedicated more than 71,000 hours to beach cleanups and educational programs.

Quinn, who is a registered civil engineer in California, raised the alarm about climate change. “We’re butting up against these points of no return,” she said.

Heal the Bay helps to ensure that public waters are clean and that there’s an ample supply of safe drinking water. The group’s many programs include Nothin’ But Sand beach cleanups. Additionally, trained volunteers visit schools to talk with kids about how their actions can make a difference for the environment.

Quinn was surprised to learn that many students in Los Angeles have not had the opportunity to visit a beach. “Getting to meet kids who are getting to experience the beach for the very first time is a huge highlight,” she said. 


Tracy Quinn, president and CEO of Heal the Bay, helps at a beach cleanup in Southern California. 



Every third Saturday, Heal the Bay hosts a beach cleanup in Los Angeles. “All the people who show up to help us out make such a huge impact,” Quinn said.

In 2023, volunteers collected more than 20,000 pounds of trash on local beaches. I participated in my first Heal the Bay cleanup several years ago. I saw then the immediate difference that beach cleanup efforts can make.

Quinn hopes that more students will be able to volunteer for Heal the Bay. She also hopes that young people will be inspired to clean up the beaches and waterways in their own area. Anyone can make powerful strides to protect what they love, Quinn said, if they’re willing to learn more and act.


The Heal the Bay Aquarium at the Santa Monica Pier features more than 100 species of marine life. 


Photos top to bottom: © Tuan Tran / Getty Images; © Konoplytska / Getty Images; courtesy of Tracy Quinn; © Barry Winiker / Getty Images