Swimming Pools to Tide Pools: Your Neighborhood and ASBS Pollution

This is the second of a 10-part blog series examining the nature of ASBS, the threats they face and the actions we can take to protect these biological hotspots for future San Diegans.

I’m the new kid on the block when it comes to San Diego Coastkeeper’s marine conservation program, and I’m on a mission to soak up (no pun intended) all the details I can about our local preservation efforts in San Diego. One major nugget of wisdom I’ve learned in my hunt for knowledge is that ASBS are an integral part of San Diego’s (and California’s) marine conservation efforts. Let me impart on you some of my newly aquired insights, dear reader.

Both the La Jolla and the San Diego-Scripps ASBS are in the Los Penasquitos watershed. This highly urban water system stretches as far inland as State Route 67, and all water in that zone eventually flows to the coastline where both ASBS are located. Trash, pollution, chemicals and general muck that accumulate inland will sooner or later wash into the ocean through these coastal areas. Streams, gullies, pipes and holes in seawalls discharge inland water into the ocean, carrying with it  all the bacteria, copper and metals, oil and grease, pesticides and nutrients accumulated eastward.

In the La Jolla ASBS, most of these pollutants come from the flow of natural water bodies, stormwater runoff and sewers. Of the 196 discharges, seventeen different municipal storm drain outlets have been identified in the ASBS, and some pipes on the bluffs and gullies empty into the tide pools, which are teeming with fragile marine life.

In the San Diego-Scripps ASBS there are 92 discharges, and a lot of the pollutants come from landscaping and pipe drainage from (gasp!) private residences. Residential sources of pollution are a result of failing to pick up after pets, letting a car leak fluid onto a driveway, allowing chemicals to enter a storm drain through hosing or dumping and more.

Ever think about where lawn fertilizer, pet waste, leaking automobile fluids and pesticides end up? If it goes into a storm drain, that means it flows directly into the ocean, untreated. Sometimes this means flowing straight into an ASBS. Storm drains dump all the dog poop, motor oil and chemicals that build up on our streets and sidewalks offshore, which is why we strongly recommend staying out of the water for 3 days (72 hours) after it rains. Surfing, swimming, or snorkeling in pollution = reckless, hazardous and certainly not the best underwater view.

The City of San Diego, UCSD, Scripps Institution of Oceanography and San Diego Coastkeeper have joined forces to reach our goal of zero discharge in both ASBS. We are committed to educating the public, implementing changes and securing a clean future for not just La Jolla, but all of San Diego’s coastline. You can help protect our ASBS by making simple water-friendly choices from installing rain barrels to participating in guerilla seedballing. Stay tuned to this blog series – we will explore some of the most cutting edge techniques to help champion the clean oceans movement. Some topics to look forward to include:

Low Impact Development: Learn about methods for construction and landscaping that minimize the impact on nature and help protect water quality.

World Oceans Day: Celebrate a healthy ocean with Coastkeeper in our ASBS.

Beach Cleanups: Wonder what type of trash flows into the ASBS? This blog post will highlight data trends gathered from beach cleanups in La Jolla.

Water-Conscious Gardening: Have a beautiful yard and protect sea critters at the same time! We’ll share with you different gardening techniques that will help keep our ASBS pollution-free.

Intrigued? I know I am.

Published in Marine Conservation

Protecting ASBS: What is an ASBS?

This is the first of a 10-part blog series examining the nature of ASBS, the threats they face and the actions we can take to protect these biological hotspots for future San Diegans.


Photo credit Isabelle Kay

I was a lucky kid. I grew up spending summers with my family in Fourth of July Cove off Santa Catalina Island, and on weekends my friends and I would soak up sun at Heisler Park in Laguna Beach. Now I live within minutes of La Jolla Shores, where on hot days I can dig my toes in the sand and get lost in a book.

There are reasons why these places are some of the most popular destinations for tourists and locals alike. The views are beautiful, the water is crisp and marine life is diverse. In fact, all three of these areas are part of California’s network of Areas of Special Biological Significance (ASBS). The primary purpose of ASBS is to protect and uphold the quality of water in areas which are ecologically unique and vulnerable to damage by pollution. The State of California gave these ASBS special status in the 1970s (yes, they’re that old) as a means of conservation, to help endangered and threatened species recover, to create study areas for scientists, and to set aside places for our enjoyment. We can admire the beauty and see first-hand the amazing sea life by going snorkeling, diving, kayaking and, my personal favorite, tidepooling.

There are currently 34 ASBS along the California coast. Each one is unique, containing sensitive biological species and communities in their complex but fragile ecosystems. San Diego is home to two of these areas, including 88 acres of protected ocean at San Diego-Scripps and 450 acres at La Jolla.

While pollutants are banned in ASBS, the restrictions are largely ignored by major polluters. The animals and plants that depend on high-quality water are still threatened by sewage discharge, urban runoff and litter. These hazards add to the deterioration of ecosystems like kelp forests and tide pools, they poison wildlife and they make waters unsafe for us to play in. Polluters have been unwilling to provide the resources to clean up ASBS and have pushed for legislation that would weaken the laws protecting the fragile ocean areas. This is why organizations like San Diego Coastkeeper make efforts to change habits and spread the word about ASBS and the precious resources and wildlife they protect.

Pay a visit to La Jolla and see for yourself some of the features of our ASBS. This hotspot is protected due to its outstanding amount of marine diversity and its availability for public use and research. The kelp forest is home to bat rays, garibaldi, moray eels and shovelnose guitarfish (check out Birch Aquarium’s live Kelp Cam for a glimpse). Leopard sharks gather here to breed during the summer and gray whales pass through during their seasonal migrations. In the tidepools I can find sea cucumbers, sea anemones, hermit crabs, seastars, and, if I’m lucky, two-spot octopi. If, like me, you find yourself inspired by the sights, get involved, become a member and help fight the good fight for clean marine ecosystems!

Published in Marine Conservation