Data Cards Create 2012 Marine Debris Report

If you’ve ever helped out at a San Diego Coastkeeper or Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Chapter beach cleanup, you’ve likely been handed one of our data cards along with your bags, gloves and trash grabbers. While the data card is sometimes met with enthusiasm, there is equal parts confusion. The reaction is similar to students who are told they get to watch a movie in class but have to fill out a worksheet too.

Unlike your movie worksheet in 6th grade, the data sheet we hand you isn’t graded but it does get used long after your day at a beach cleanup. They get compiled in our annual marine debris report and help direct decisions and actions.

The data cards are used to track what debris we’re finding on our beaches throughout the year. Every part of the card you fill out helps us to improve our understanding of marine debris in San Diego. They allow us to help plan for future cleanups, make local recommendations, design education programs, and study the impacts of policy.

Filling out a data card for an hour or two or cleanup may not seem like a big deal, but by each one of our 4,308 volunteers in 2012 helping to correctly fill out their data cards, we are able to learn far more about marine debris that we could on our own.

Thanks to data cards, we know:

  • 7,594 pounds of trash were removed in 2012. This means each volunteer removed roughly 1.72 pounds of trash. That’s over a pound more than in previous years!
  • Ocean Beach, historically one of the dirtiest beaches, is now one of the cleanest, with less than 1 pound removed per volunteer.
  • 32% of all items were plastic and 40% were cigarette butts. In fact, 20,000 more cigarette butts were found on beaches this year. Yikes!
  • Over 53,000 debris items on our beaches are actually recyclable. Teaching our neighbors, family, and friends about what we can recycle could make a huge difference.Cleanup_Carefusion_Aug12_2
  • A record low number of plastic bags were found, which means we’re making better choices as a community. However, we collected 7,500, and this is still too many plastic bags on our beaches.

Thanks to all of our wonderful volunteers who helped make this another successful year of beach cleanups and contributed to our data collection.

Want to be a part of our 2013 marine debris program? Come out to any one of our beach cleanups. San Diego Coastkeeper is also happy to arrange special cleanups through our Beach Cleanup in Box and Sponsored Cleanup Program. We’ll supply you with everything you need to make your beaches a little cleaner, including a data card.

Published in Marine Debris

San Diego Coastkeeper at Millennial Tech Middle School

We spent a great evening at Millennial Tech Middle School’s Winter Science Festival in the Chollas View neighborhood of San Diego. San Diego Coastkeeper Core volunteer Caitlin, San Diego Coastkeeper’s education coordinator Nia, and I were on-hand to provide brief 25-minute educational sessions on marine debris.

The ‘Marine Sea Animal Entanglement Exercise’ was shared with students and their parents. Eliciting answers to questions regarding how marine debris such as plastic bags, cigarette butts, oil, and other items end up in the ocean and have their effect on sea life from students was fun and students always provided many examples of how this happens. Students know remarkably well the effects of pollution on their environment and how it can affect marine life as they explain it to everyone participating in the exercise.MTM_2

The exercise has students (and parents) pinch their fingers together like a dolphin beak or rostrum, pick up beans scattered on their table (representing fish), and placing them in a container for a 30 second time span. Each student then counts how many fish she or he caught and scores are tallied. Then a rubber band (representing a plastic bag entangled on the beak) is placed over the fingers and students again try to catch fish for 30 seconds. Scores are tallied and students can see the effects that this has on animals trying to survive in the wild.

One of the more interesting discoveries by most parents doing this exercise is that San Diego sewage and stormwater drainage are really two separate entities, that is, stormwater does drain directly into the ocean taking all the trash that accumulates on streets and watersheds with it directly. Educating parents and their young students in outreach activities like this is another step to moving towards San Diego Coastkeeper’s goal of having swimmable, fishable and drinkable water for everyone.

Millennial Tech Middle School is a magnet school with a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Post written by Hector Valtierra. Hector is a member of San Diego Coastkeeper’s Community Advisory Council.


Mission Possible Cleans Record Amount of Debris from Mission Bay

Beach cleanup events always amaze me. I’m happy to say our first Mission Possible: Clean the Bay Day was no exception but perhaps exceeded any expectations I had for the afternoon. Created in partnership with SeaWorld, the event was deveon_the_bayloped to takle water quality issues in Mission Bay through debris removal, an area we all agreed needed attention.

Kicking off from South Shores Park boat ramp in Mission Bay, 149 volunteers woke up exceptionally early on a Saturday and set out by foot, kayak, and boat to do their part in keeping our water clean. While most of the volunteers worked from land, two kayakers from the community came out to collect debris further from shore. San Diego Coastkeeper’s 19′ Boston Whaler, Clean Sweep, joined the event as well, alongside two SeaWorld vessels.

While most beach cleanups tend to bring out the “best of the best” in San Diego, this was one to remember. These volunteers included families with small children, high school clubs, friends and coworkers. One group was there to celebrate a birthday, with her gift request being that they attend the cleanup with her. “Lauren’s Present”, as they called themselves, went on to win SeaWorld Tickets and a penguin encounter for collecting the most cigarette butts. For those who are wondering, they collected 200 cigarette butts.

It’s going to be difficult to top the work our volunteers did that day. In just a few hours, they collected 430 pounds of debris. For those having a hard time visualizing that, it’s the weight of a young male sea lion. By weight, this is the most debris collected at any San Diego Coastkeeper event this year. The next closest was just over 200 pounds removed by 236 volunteers in Oceanside.

Many of the 9,060 items were what we usually see at beach cleanups but in larger quantities than we’ve seen this year on beaches. 430 plastic bags, 1,582 cigarette butts, 974 plastic food wrappers and nearly 500 glass bottles and fragments topped the list.

It was truly a collaborative event, with SeaWorld and the US Coast Guard joining us and supporting a phenominal effort by the San Diego community. Thanks to SeaWorld, 100 participants returning bags of trash, were rewarded with a ticket to the park, and several groups, like “Lauren’s Present,” walked away with top honors in special categories including “Bring Your Own Supplies” and “Most Unusual Item.” The award for “Most Trash Collected” went to an outstanding group from Poway High School’s Surf Club, hauling in 40 pounds of trash and earning SeaWorld tickets and dolphin encounters.

Cub Scout Pack 1209 Den 4 used the event to teach their scouts about the “leave no trace behind” policy. Collecting five pounds in their bag, one parent explained how amazing it was that so many small items, like plastic and styrofoam, added up to be so much. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

While San Diego Coastkeeper looks forward to a repeat event next year, we hope that those enjoying Mission Bay throughout the year do their part to “leave no trace,” just like the Cub Scouts. Just like each piece of trash adds up quickly, so do individual actions. Help us set a new record next year, making Mission Possible: Clean the Bay our first cleanup where marine debris is nowhere to be found.

Published in Marine Debris

Trash on the Water Fog in the Sky

clean-sweep1As a student attorney for San Diego Coastkeeper, my work naturally revolves around the organization’s core mission of ensuring drinkable, swimmable, and fishable waters. While water is almost always the central theme of my work, there is a difference between talking or writing about water and actually seeing, feeling, and breathing the ocean. So when the chance arose to go out on the Coastkeeper boat Monday morning, I couldn’t have been more excited!

I joined Captain Chris and my supervising attorney and Waterkeeper, Jill Witkowski, onboard the Clean Sweep. It was a warm, beautiful morning, and we set off from Kona Kai marina and headed out through San Diego Bay. As we passed by Harbor Island and rounded toward downtown, however, the beauty of the Bay was besmirched by an abundance of plastic bottle and styrofoam debris. Chris and Jill both commented that the amount of trash was unusual. But as we continued on toward Chula Vista, I couldn’t help noticing that the presence of trash did not let up.

Near a public pier and marina around National City, enough was enough and our mission turned from observation and presence on the water to trash cleanup. With Jill trash spotting, Captain Chris deftly maneuvered the Coastkeeper boat alongside debris, which I then plucked from the water. Our “harvest” included the following unsavory items: spray paint bottle, chemical mixing bottle, styrofoam packaging material, block of wood, and snack chip bags.

With the engine well at the back of the boat full of our booty, we cruised back to the marina, braving the reduced visibility and sudden drop in temperature of rapid onset fog. Back near downtown, the fog dissipated, and once more we came face to face with the problem of trash on the water. We collected a few more items, then made our way back to Kona Kai. On the ride in, I reflected on the fact that from a desk in an office or library water pollution can sometimes become an abstract concept. But putting my hand into the water to pull out trash? That made it real.

Now I encourage all you readers to get your hands in the water and pull some trash! It’s an important side of environmental stewardship, and something all us coastkeepers and friends of the environment should be involved in. On October 27, San Diego Coastkeeper will be hosting “Mission Possible: Clean the Bay Day with SeaWorld.” This event runs from 8am to 11am at Mission Bay, and food will provided by Rubio’s. So please bring your work gloves, sunscreen, boat if you have one, and give us a hand.  Hope to see you there!

Published in Marine Debris

Coastkeeper and UCSD tackle marine debris sources

ASBS_UCSD_Cleanup2Beach cleanups are one of our volunteers’ favorite programs. Who doesn’t love a morning on the beach with friends and family while helping to solve our global marine debris issue? So far this year, more than 1,000 Coastkeeper volunteers have removed over 2,736 pounds of trash from our coastline.

Impressive work, but still troubling.

Even with many responsible and concerned individuals keeping our beaches free of trash, there’s always more to remove. So where is it coming from? Were all 2,615 plastic bags collected this year intentionally or accidentally left at the beach? Most likely, no.

San Diego is home to 11 watersheds, areas in which all water from rain, creeks, rivers and streams drains into the same location. For San Diegans, that common location is the Pacific Ocean. Water moving through our watershed transports trash left on the ground and moved out of trash bins by wind or animals to the ocean.

To address some of our inland pollution sources, San Diego Coastkeeper and UCSD Environment, Health & Safety teamed  for a cleanup of the UCSD campus. Opting for a morning in a parking lot and inland canyons over a Southern California beach may not seem a fair trade, but what we found might convince you otherwise.

Twenty-one volunteers removed 31 pounds of trash. This included 4,201 cigarette butts. Just as a reference, our 150 volunteers at our Coastal Cleanup Day site at Tourmaline Beach found 130 pounds of trash. They collected 672 cigarette butts. Inland pollution needs a little more credit than we’ve been giving it.

Trash left behind at UCSD can travel all the way to La Jolla Shores. Here, trash entering the ocean is unsightly and directly impacts an Area of Special Biological Significance (ASBS) where pollutants are banned. This area is considered so ecologically important that the state gave this designation to 88 acres at Scripps and 450 acres at La Jolla.

Maintaining the health of our ASBS regions in San Diego is critical but difficult to manage. Impacted by actions not only along the coast, but throughout the watershed, each individual living here has a role in protecting them.

Given the success of our event with UCSD Environment, Health & Safety, Coastkeeper is looking forward to more programs focused on our inland areas to protect our water and coastline. In the meantime, do your part. Help protect the unique and fragile ecosystems we have in our backyard by remembering your actions have an impact, even far from the coast.

Published in Marine Debris

Volunteers continue to impress at Coastal Cleanup Day

Looking at the forecast for this past weekend, my hopes for a large turnout on Coastal Cleanup Day were dwindling. By 10 a.m. on Saturday temperatures sailed past 90 degrees at the coast and inland areas were expecting to see the thermometer rise over 100. I expected most would see this as a great excuse to sit in front of the air conditioning.

I’m proud to say I was wrong.

On September 15, San Diego Coastkeeper was joined at Tourmaline Beach by 157 volunteers for our cleanup efforts as a part of the 28th Annual Coastal Cleanup Day. With generous support from Teva, volunteers at Tourmaline removed 130 pounds of trash from 4,000 feet of shoreline.


We were joined by moms and dads, families, friends, coworkers, and school groups. Volunteers came from across the county, with a few visitors from Arizona and beyond. Some were beach cleanup veterans, while others were there for their very first one. They gave up their Saturday morning, that extra hour or two of sleep, college football games, and air conditioning for a few hours making a positive impact on their community.

I couldn’t help but be exceptionally proud that so many San Diegans value our waters and environment enough to choose the latter.

I am so proud that I live in a place where over half of our volunteers brought their own reusable buckets, trash pickers and gloves. I’m proud they are teaching their kids and neighbors to do the same.

So many people came to me feeling they had not done enough. They had only picked up a few small items or their bag only weighed a pound or two. I couldn’t have been prouder of those small bags filled with bits of plastic and Styrofoam.

Most of our 1,766 items removed were small particles that possess a real threat to our marine life and water quality. If you hadn’t been, they’d still be sitting on the sand, waiting to be washed out into the ocean. In just three hours, 672 cigarettes, 92 straws, 99 plastic bags, and 49 plastic utensils were picked up. These items, though small and seemingly insignificant, make some of the biggest impacts when removed.

Knowing that so many individuals in San Diego are willing to do the right thing, to pass along the values of environmental stewardship to family and friends, protecting our swimmable, fishable, drinkable water doesn’t feel quite as daunting. In fact, it almost seems within reach.

But we can’t do it alone.

Published in Marine Debris

Take a Survey to Protect Del Mar Beaches

My name is Derek Kiy, and I am a junior at Canyon Crest Academy. When I began the conceptualization of an Eagle Scout project, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to make a legitimate impact on the community. I contacted San Diego Coastkeeper regarding a project proposal, and they jumped on the opportunity to guide me through the process. This project aims to rid Del Mar of Styrofoam takeout containers through the education of the community.

The first step on this odyssey is a survey that we, Coastkeeper and I, have worked on to gauge public opinion regarding Styrofoam takeout containers in Del Mar. The data regarding the prevalence, usage and preference of the containers will prove to be paramount. The analysis of the data we collect will allow us to craft the best educational tools, strategies and materials to help Del Mar residents learn about the negative environmental effects of polystyrene containers.

Through our education, we aim to inform the community of the huge and unnecessary cost of the plastic foam usage. Any and all participation in the survey is greatly appreciated so please, I implore you to spread this survey to your friends, family or anybody else you know.

By enabling the gathering of data, you become crusader for a cleaner and healthier Del Mar. This city’s identity is so closely tied to it pristine waters that it only makes sense to guard those waters so everyone who spends time in Del Mar may enjoy the coast it has become renowned for. Helping Del Mar’s coast is not a matter of moving mountains, but rather taking small steps and actions to make a huge difference.

Want to help with my efforts? Take this short survey about Styrofoam in San Diego. Thank you!

Published in Marine Debris

Power cleaning with Power Scuba

On August 4, San Diego Coastkeeper and Power Scuba joined forces for an underwater and beach cleanup. We had walkers, kayakers, snorkelers and divers participate. The following account from diver Dan Prosperi and photos from his dive buddy Lida Chaipat tell the story.

When I started hearing rumors about an underwater cleanup in Mission Bay, I got pretty excited. On every dive I do, I try to pick up whatever litter I can. And this was an opportunity to have a whole bunch of folks hunt litter with me! So when the event was finally posted on the Power Scuba website, I was all over it!

On the morning of, I showed up a bit early, as usual, but canopies were already set up, snacks were already set out, etc. Raleigh Moody from Power Scuba and Megan Baehrens from Coastkeeper had done an amazing job of organizing this event. By the time everyone arrived, there were about 50 people there! Some planned to dive, some to snorkel, and some to walk the shoreline. But we were ALL there to make the ocean and surrounding environment a little bit cleaner!

Megan talked for a couple of minutes about water quality. It’s important, she said, to have as little water as possible flow from our lawns into the ocean. Inevitably, the fertilizer we use will flow into the storm drains, and largely end up in the ocean. There, it causes blooms of algae. Some of these algae can be directly harmful. But even more important, when all of those algae eventually dies and decomposes, that process takes oxygen out of the water, potentially suffocating the other animals in the ocean. This can lead to the “dead zones” that have started appearing along the US coasts.


Bill Powers (founder of Power Scuba) gave a pre-dive briefing, and we were off. My buddy Lida and I decided to swim a line between and under the boats that were moored in the bay. When we descended, we discovered that the water was about as murky as you’d expect in a bay that doesn’t get much tidal exchange. We could only see 1 to 5 feet in front of us. That made it a bit challenging to find litter! But we did manage to find a few pieces.

I was especially happy that we were able to remove several pieces of plastic from the ocean.



Dan is excited to find his first piece of trash in Mariner’s Basin!


As you know, plastic doesn’t ever really break down. But it does break into smaller and smaller pieces. And the bright colors encourage sea life to eat it. Of course, once it gets in their stomachs, it doesn’t supply any nutrition. And since it doesn’t break down, it can get stuck, potentially leaving the animal to starve to death. Well, those couple of pieces that we removed won’t have a chance to do that!



I don’t think that’s good for you, little guy…


As we swam along, looking for any trash we could find, I was impressed at how little there was! I guess San Diegans are pretty aware that the ocean they love will only stay that way if they keep trash out of it! Since there wasn’t much litter to see, I started seeing some cool critters on the bottom. There were the critters you’d expect on a sandy bottom, tube-dwelling anemones, sanddabs, and the occasional round sting ray.





In patches of eel grass, we found a kind of nudibranch we’ve never seen before. (Nudibranchs are colorful critters that look kinda like slugs.) In a few places where the grass was thicker, we found a few lobsters!





When I saw a beer can on the bottom, I was pretty excited. Another piece of trash to remove! But I knew enough to check it for anyone living inside. Sure enough, when I looked inside, an eyeball was looking back out at me! It was a little octopus, and I could see he was very happy with his little aluminum home. (Kind of like a retiree in an Airstream…)



After Lida took a few photos of us, I put the octopus and his little house safely back on the bottom.



When we surfaced from our dive, the safety kayakers quickly came to check on us. Another sign of some good organizing! We took our few finds and put them on the pile. The folks that had walked the shoreline looking for trash had had more success than we had when it came to volume of trash. All in all, the group removed over 75 pounds of trash from the water and surrounding beach!

Looking back on the event, there were a few things I took away:

1) There are a bunch of people out there that care about the ocean enough to spend a morning cleaning it up.

2) At least some of our bays are in surprisingly good shape, litter-wise.

3) Even a bay with lots of boats has a pretty good amount of critters living there.


Thanks to everyone who participated. I hope to see you at the next one!

–Dan Prosperi

Published in Marine Debris

Don’t Be Trashy This Fourth of July

Do you remember the “marshamallow mess” last year? As much as it was amusing at the time, millions of fluffy balls swarmed Ocean Beach leaving its wildlife with the mess it could not to deal with. But thanks to our 88 volunteers, we gave the beach a breath of fresh air. This year, aside from avoiding marshamallows, there are more things we could do to ensure our Fourth of July is fun, and the “morning after” is not hard on our environment.

  • Free yourself from chemicals. Parabens, “benzo-somethings” and such are not only bad for us but are also harsh on our precious waters. If you plan to hit the beach this holiday, check out sunscreens from Aubrey or Alba (or other) to avoid spreading the invisible mess. Household cleaning products are no better. Save money and the environment by making your own green cleaners. And check out Pinterest; there you can find easy and awesome DIY ideas when it comes to making your own lotions. Or just buy a natural one.
  • Get out of the car. It’s time to feel the breeze! Get on the bike ride with your family and friends. Going to the store? Beach? Just cruising? Whatever you do, let your four-wheeler rest and get some exercise. San Diego County has more than 312 miles of bike lanes and 114 miles of bike routes. There is no excuse to not enjoy the sun. Not to mention, it’s a free ride.
  • Re____ it. Whether you are going to the beach this Fourth of July or spending it in your backyard, don’t forget to reduce, reuse and recycle. Just do it.
  • Don’t mess up. Promote protection of the swimmable, fishable and drinkable waters in San Diego. If you are off to the beach, organize your stuff. Don’t let it get away from you and harass the beach later. Stay classy and join Surfrider, San Diego Chapter for the Morning After Mess beach cleanup on July 5 from 9 a.m. – 11 a.m. at the multiple sites around San Diego.
  • Know where you go. Coastkeeper has you covered. Download our Swim Guide app and enjoy your Fourth of July with no fear on your favorite beach. We provide fresh water quality data every day.

What are you declaring independence from this holiday?

Ditching the Plastic Foam in San Diego

Imagine you have just finished an excellent meal at your favorite local restaurant. When you feel like you can’t fit any more into your stomach, the wait staff comes by to bring you a box for your leftovers. Of course, no one wants to waste food, however, you receive a box made from plastic foam, or more commonly referred to as Styrofoam  or polystyrene!

This conundrum still plagues many San Diego residents who want to be environmentally friendly, but their favorite restaurants are still using plastic foam to-go materials that are harmful to the environment.

Not to worry, San Diego Coastkeeper has been working to tackle this issue! Last week at our quarterly Signs of the Tide Event we took a closer look at the problem, and learned of some new ways to address this topic.

We had the City of San Diego recycling specialist, Donna Chralowicz, speak about why plastic foam is so bad, and what the city is doing to change it habits. Because of it’s lightweight properties, plastic foam transports easily if not disposed of properly, is non-degradable and breaks apart quickly, and is also not easily recyclable. The City has now decided to reduce its use of plastic foam at the operations level and at all city-sanctioned events. As of January 2012, plastic foam cannot be purchased by the city. Sounds like a great step in the right direction!

Local restaurant/business owner of Raglan Public House and Bareback Grill, Michael Zouroudis, spoke towards colleagues in the his industry about making the switch to zero styro. He strives to reach customers who appreciate the extra effort of making this switch. Obviously, the hardest part for restaurants to make that switch is investing more money into the to-go part of their business, which can be up to twice as expensive. Even though doing the “right thing” will mean more financial sacrifice, customers will appreciate it.

After San Diego Coastkeeper started logging trash picked up during beach clean-ups in 2007, it quickly became apparent that Styrofoam was all too common. Alicia Glassco with the San Diego Coastkeeper Marine Debris Program lobbied for a more proactive approach to eliminating polystyrene from our beaches. Local residents have to urge restaurants to make the switch away from polystyrene. Residents also need to rally for change for the entire jurisdiction. It’s easier for restaurants to make the switch if they are all forced to do so at the same time.

So, what can we do next time we are handed a box made from plastic foam after our dining experience? Check out these options:

  1. Re-usable is the best alternative to polystyrene (or any to-go materials). Bring your own box when you eat out!
  2. Talk/write/lobby to your local elected officials about a change
  3. Encourage your favorite restaurant to switch to an alternative to polystyrene. Check out for a list of good alternatives, facts about Styrofoam, and for educational cards to help promote change in local restaurants.
Published in Marine Debris