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South Bay Surfer Helping To Clean Up Beaches In Half Moon Bay, South Africa

HALF MOON BAY (KPIX) -- Billions of pounds of plastic and other pollutants end up in the ocean every year. A San Mateo County woman has been rounding up her small coastal community to help clean it up.

Twice-a-month beach cleanups in Half Moon Bay collect trash, from plastic bottle caps to cigarette butts.

Volunteers like 8-year-old Jade Stark feel good.

"I feel like a hero," she said. "It's like you're saving the animals on the ocean and on land."

The beach cleanup is one project of Sea Hugger, the nonprofit Shell Cleave founded in 2018 to protect and heal the marine environment.

She got the idea, in part, after diving at the Great Barrier Reef with her husband.

"There were large swaths of dead and bleached coral and it was really shocking to see that," said Cleave.

The Half Moon Bay surfer had an aha moment. She quit her 20-plus year old business in technical writing to start Sea Hugger.

"I realized that I have the skills and the heart to be the voice for Mama Ocean, because the ocean and the animals that live in the marine ecosystem really can't speak for themselves," she explained.

Volunteer Joana Stark says Cleave leads the nonprofit in lobbying for conservation laws, and supporting solutions that reduce our dependency on plastic.

"She makes the bridge between the community and the politicians and organizations that can make a difference," Stark said.

Sea Hugger also provides monthly support for a program in South Africa that's picked up more than 4,000-pounds of plastic in two years.

Cleave says the Litter4Tokens program is mirrored after a program in Mexico, where families pick up bags of trash, turn them in for tokens, and they use the tokens to buy basics like food and clothes.

Cleave and her group also educate children. On-campus lessons gave way to Camp Sea Hugger on an old school bus during the pandemic. Hundreds of families have paid to send students to the classes at Pillar Point Harbor.

Michelle Dragony of the Granada Community Services District says Cleave motivates people to care for their environment. The cleanup projects are part of that.

"When you walk through here, part of your neighborhood, it looks better," Dragony said. "She makes you feel it. Yeah, she's pretty inspirational."

And now, supporters inspired Cleave with neighborhood signs and well wishes as she battles stage 4 breast cancer.

Shell's daughter, Cass Cleave, who's also Sea Hugger's marketing director, says the nonprofit fuels her fight.

"It has given her a huge sense of purpose," she said of her mother.

So for leading a multi-faceted campaign to protect the oceans this week's Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Shell Cleave.

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