Beach cleaning robot makes debut at Keep Tahoe Blue Stewardship Day
A beach cleaning robot made its debut on Wednesday at the League to Save Lake Tahoe’s annual Stewardship Day.
BEBOT is an all electric, solar and battery powered beach sifting robot. It is manufactured by The Searial Cleaners and Poralu Marine and was brought to Lake Tahoe by ECO-CLEAN Solutions, a nonprofit formed in 2020.
BEBOT is manually operated and runs on two tracks, so there is limited sand compaction. It sifts through about 1 to 4 inches of sand picking up items down to the size of 5 millimeters and collects in a container on the back. Operators will sort through the stuff collected, throwing back natural debris and keeping trash and plastic.
“The goal is capture things before they have the opportunity to degrade or make it into the lake,” said JB Harris, founder and CEO, ECO-CLEAN Solutions.
After being tested on two private beaches in Lake Tahoe, BEBOT made its public debut at the annual clean-up day at Tallac Historic Site.
ECO-CLEAN Solutions was started by Harris in 2020. He was working at Round Hill Pines when COVID-19 hit and he said he got sick of cleaning up after people.
“I’d take my son to the beach and I’d spend more time cleaning up than enjoying the beach for what it is,” Harris said. “It made me stop wanting to come and I knew there had to be a better way.”
After looking at many different solutions, Harris found BEBOT, a robot with no emissions and minimal impact to the beach. In fact, it’s been tested on Florida beaches that are home to turtle nests and no damage has been done to the nests.
Daniel Cressy, public service staff officer for the USDA Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, agreed to allow access for the robot to Forest Service beaches after seeing data and demonstrations of BEBOT.
“I’m excited to see creative thinking and innovation,” Cressy said. “I’m definitely a believer that one thing isn’t the answer, so this might not be the answer, but it’s a step towards problem solving. I want to encourage us to try things out, keep learning from things, and not be afraid to do things differently than we’ve done in the past.”
One of the benefits of the robot is that it can pick up smaller items that are harder for volunteers to remove by hand. These smaller items break down into microplastics, which were found in Lake Tahoe in 2019 through efforts of The League, the Desert Research Institute and U.C. Davis Tahoe Environmental Research Center.
“Once those things are in the water, it’s really difficult to pull them out. We just had an unprecedented effort with Clean Up the Lake removing debris from around the lake. They aren’t removing microplastics, they’re removing big things,” said Chief Strategy Officer for The League to Save Lake Tahoe Jesse Patterson.
Prior to coming to Tallac, BEBOT did test runs at Glenbrook and Incline beaches, two beaches that are privately owned and meticulously cleaned by groundskeepers. Even though the beaches are tended to, BEBOT still collected quite a bit of trash. This isn’t about how well the groundskeepers do taking care of the beach, rather it’s about how easily smaller items of trash can be left in the environment.
“If you look at the beach today, it looks pretty darn clean, but what we’re thinking we’re going to demonstrate is after running the robot there is going to be quite a bit of stuff that we didn’t see,” Patterson said.
JT Chevallier, chief strategy officer for ECO-CLEAN Solutions, said he sees two main purposes for BEBOT. The first is more obvious — making sure trash doesn’t end up in the Lake.
“This shoreline is the last stand before trash and debris make it into the lake and as trash becomes more ingrained into the sand, it breaks down and it becomes harder to pick up,” Chevallier said.
The second is about changing beach-goers mindsets.
“When we’re out on the beach operating this machine, it creates a sense of attention and that creates a sense of stewardship. What we want people to know is that though (the shoreline) might be the last stand, the first stand is the users at the beach being responsible with their trash pickup,” Chevallier said.
Their goal is to have the robot present at beaches on busy days occasionally to raise awareness and to mostly operate it during the week for clean up.
“The stewardship aspect is huge for us, but we’d like to get to the point where we do events and draw attention to the issues but also be unseen and just be cleaning our beaches,” Harris said. “Our goal is to change the standard of how we care for the beaches up here.”
This robot is the only one of its kind on the West Coast and only one of four in the United States. ECO-CLEAN Solutions are also distributors of the robots and would like to see this technology become more widespread.
On a local level, they are also hoping to expand their fleet so that they can have three or four cleaning the beaches at one time.
The League is also currently taking suggestions for possible names for the robot.
While the robot was the star of the show, it was just one piece in the larger Stewardship Day. About 20 volunteers took on projects that ranged from reinforcing the beach access stairs which were worn down over the year, to using tree stumps to line existing paths to discourage illegal trails forming to the beaches. Volunteers also picked up large trash items on the beach as well as helping sort the loads picked up by the robot.
“Today’s event, while it is focused a little bit on restoration, it’s really focused on sustainable recreation. How do we access places like this, how do we get to and from here and what do we leave behind or more importantly, not leave behind?” Patterson said during his introductory remarks.
Over the past year, management of the Tallac Historic Site was taken over by the Great Basin Institute, an “interdisciplinary field studies organization that promotes environmental research, education, and service.”
“We have been the nonprofit association at the visitor center at Taylor Creek since 2018 and it was a fluid transition to acquire the interpretative association status at Tallac when (Tahoe Heritage Foundation) was ending their contract,” said Erin Gavlock, visitor services administrator for GBI.
While the League’s 2021 Stewardship Day was hosted at Tallac Historic Site, this year’s clean-up was the first volunteer day at the site since GBI took over management.
“We want to express gratitude to the volunteers, this place would be nothing without volunteer maintenance and support,” said Rachel Durben, development manager with GBI.
This year, the Ambassador Program for South Tahoe High School and Lake Tahoe Community College students will have ambassadors working at Tallac Historic Site, which they didn’t have last year.
“Working through partnership is how we’re able to do things so this is a great example of the League, Great Basin Institute, Forest Service and the public all coming together to engage in making a difference,” Cressy said.
BEBOT will be working all summer around the lake. To see it in action, join the League at Nevada Beach on July 5 for their post-holiday clean-up event.
To learn more about the robot, visit http://www.eco-cleansolutions.com.
Laney Griffo is a reporter for the Sierra Sun and the Tahoe Daily Tribune
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