Beauty and the beach: Miss Earth USA participants finish mission trip in La Jolla

Miss Earth USA 2021 Marisa Butler (left) and Miss Teen Earth USA Katia Gerry observe sea lions July 25 in La Jolla.
Miss Earth USA 2021 Marisa Butler (left) and Miss Teen Earth USA Katia Gerry observe sea lions July 25 in La Jolla as part of their pageant’s mission trip.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

To further their environmental projects, several titleholders in the 2021 Miss Earth USA pageant gathered in La Jolla on July 25 to conclude a three-day mission trip in San Diego.

The day included a kayaking tour of the La Jolla coast and Miss Earth USA Marisa Butler leading a Leave No Trace workshop on outdoor ethics, certifying the participants for having completed the training.

The day also included a Sierra Club Seal Society of San Diego talk at the gazebo above the Children’s Pool, during which Seal Society docent Robyn Davidoff provided information to the women about the history of the Children’s Pool beach, the differences between seals and sea lions and the ways the Seal Society has acted to protect them. Davidoff then led the group to Point La Jolla to observe sea lions’ behavior.

Seal Society docent Robyn Davidoff explains the anatomy of harbor seals to Miss Earth USA participants.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

During the mission trip, hosted by Butler, a North Park resident, the group worked with San Diego Canyonlands on July 23 to remove 26.5 pounds of invasive brown mustard plants and 16 pounds of trash from Manzanita Canyon in San Diego.

Later that afternoon, the group worked with Friends of Famosa Slough to remove brush to help prevent wildfires in the Point Loma wetland.

Miss Earth USA participants and members of We Clean Trails and Friends of Rose Creek
Miss Earth USA participants and members of We Clean Trails and Friends of Rose Creek removed 1,040 pounds of trash from the Rose Creek bike path on July 24.
(Courtesy of Marisa Butler)

On July 24, the women worked with members of Friends of Rose Creek and Butler’s nonprofit We Clean Trails to remove 1,040 pounds of trash from the Rose Creek bike path, a cleanup that occurs bimonthly.

As the reigning titleholder of Miss Earth USA, an environmentally focused competition, Butler brought the yearly mission trip to various spots in her hometown to expose the participants to the local environmental organizations she works with.

Earth Day 2021 brought more than a dozen volunteers to the La Jolla coast for a beach cleanup — the first such in-person effort organized by the Sierra Club Seal Society of San Diego since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s just a really great thing to highlight this amazing environmental work here in San Diego and La Jolla,” Butler said.

To qualify for the trip, the women raised money for Miss Earth USA’s nonprofit section, Beauties for A Cause USA, to support environmental projects throughout the year, Butler said.

“Miss Earth is the only international pageant that is recognized by the [United Nations] for environmental work,” Butler said. “I’ll be representing the U.S. internationally this fall.”

The pageant so far has awarded Butler $5,000 in scholarships “to go toward my environmental projects” and helped her establish We Clean Trails, she said.

Butler said she was drawn to La Jolla as the culminating location for the mission trip “to show not just how to give back to your community but how to make real systematic change in our communities” by hearing from the Seal Society about its advocacy for the local seals and sea lions.

“Plus, La Jolla is just one of the most beautiful places in San Diego County,” she said. “Walking around La Jolla is always a staple of where I bring visitors.”

In June, the Seal Society and Sierra Club San Diego called on Mayor Todd Gloria to close Point La Jolla to the public during sea lion pupping season, which runs June 1 to Oct. 31, while keeping the viewing area from an adjacent wall open. The city has not done that, though new signs and stenciled messages have been installed around the site to alert people to keep their distance from the sea lions. Davidoff said the Seal Society raised money to pay for the signage.

Miss Earth USA participants learned about local efforts to protect sea lions while observing the animals at Point La Jolla.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Each Miss Earth USA contestant takes on a distinct environmental advocacy project, Butler said. Hers is “the collective Earth,” which is “showing people that we need to see plants and animals as part of our community. Our definition of community extends past just our neighbors and into our actual environment itself.”

Katia Gerry, Miss Teen Earth USA, came from Los Angeles for the mission trip. She said she had vacationed in San Diego before but wasn’t very aware of the local environmental issues before this visit. She saw a sea lion for the first time during the kayaking tour.

“I’m definitely really excited to hear more about … how we can protect them and take that back to my community as well,” Gerry said.

Her advocacy project focuses on indoor air pollution in L.A., so she doesn’t “really get an opportunity to come outside and do cleanup work. This is really new to me and I’m so excited.”

Miss Louisiana Earth Caroline Nickerson said she enjoys “learning about how different environmental groups do things.”

Nickerson, who graduated from the University of Florida, said coastal Florida faces similar issues with manatees.

“There might be transferable lessons in regard to seasonal protections that we could implement,” Nickerson said.

She said the research industry in La Jolla correlates with her pageant platform of “citizen science empowering resiliency — how members of the public can engage in environmental monitoring to have a hyperlocal understanding of environmental problems,” hopefully leading to a safer world.

Nickerson said she wanted to become Miss Louisiana Earth because “making these issues accessible and fun is how we make it achievable. Normally, people don’t want to talk about environmental problems, and the crown makes it something that people can actually address.”

“People just get excited when the crown comes out,” she said, “and then we can do a science project together.” ◆