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Beach cleaning robot debuts at Tahoe

Published: Jun. 17, 2022 at 12:17 PM PDT
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TALLAC HISTORICAL SITE, LAKE TAHOE, Calif. (KOLO) - A warm sunny day at Tahoe is sure to draw visitors to its beaches and the cool clear waters off shore.

On this particular day, it’s also drawn a number of Keep Tahoe Blue volunteers. They’re here to pick up after everyone. Fortunately, there always seems to be a lot of them. They make a big difference, but dedicated as they are, inevitably they can’t find it all.

“We think we might be missing what’s just below the surface of the sand,” says Jesse Patterson, Chief Strategy Officer for the League to Save Lake Tahoe, “and anything whether it’s on the sand or in the sand it’s going to make its way into the lake.”

Enter the BEBOT. That’s its name for the moment, though we hear they will be taking suggestions for a new one. It’s an electric, solar-assisted robot developed in France. It can go where the volunteers can’t, and finds trash they likely couldn’t see, much less find.

“We can get under the surface of that sand, find the smaller material that’s really hard to pick up by hand or even by sight and then we can take that and prevent it from going into the lake,” explains J.T. Chevallier of Eco-Clean Solutions.

The big concern is plastic. It never leaves, but it does break down into ever smaller pieces which end up in the lake, the environment, the fish and us.

“Bottle caps, parts of plastic wrappers that have broken down, cigarette butts are a real problem on the beach,” says Patterson . “I guess people see the sand and think it’s an ash tray.”

Periodically, the robot’s catch is examined and sorted. Natural material, rocks, pine needles, other organic stuff is returned to the beach. What’s left is instructive and a little alarming.

“To our eyes the beach was clean,” says Patterson picking up a bucket with an assortment of plastic waste just found in a 15 by 50 foot stretch of beach. “This is just out of sight, just below the sand. Aside from trash , there’s no shortage of invasive Asian clam shells either.”

They’re not only removing trash from the beach, they keeping track of what they find and where they find it and for good reason.

“So we can potentially go and find solutions,” says Patterson. “Whether that’s through implementing new rules or education, passing new laws or just bringing awareness that these things are in our environment.”

This is the robot’s debut in the western U.S. and, though it hasn’t made the job of cleaning the beach and protecting the lake any less laborious, it promises to make it more thorough.

Just the sight of it working the beach, finding the smallest, most worrisome debris may also cause those of us enjoying the lake to think about how it gets there in the first place.

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