Did you know that volunteers at Coastkeeper’s beach cleanups are collecting important information to help scientists track the impacts of the Japan tsunami?
In mid-October, the International Pacific Research Center (IPRC) released that a Russian ship, the Pallada, found tsunami debris after passing the Midway Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The tsunami debris made up of wooden boards, plastic bottles, buoys from fishing nets, boots, etc., comes from the tragic tsunami that struck Japan this March. The Pallada also picked up a Japanese fishing boat that had markings indicating that the boat was from the FukushimaPrefecture, the area hardest hit by the tsunami. The Japanese Ministry of the Environment has estimated that there is a total of 25 million tons of disaster waste. Despite this high number, not all the disaster debris will end up becoming tsunami debris as some of the waste has already been disposed of, or managed on land.
The IPRC has been working to model the tsunami debris and predicts that the debris will hit the Northern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument in a year. Within the following two years, the rest of the Hawaiian Islands may see some effects, and in three years, the debris may reach the west coast. The model predicts Oregon as an epicentre of accumluation, and its expected that San Diego will see minimal impacts on our shores. Floating marine debris will then move towards the North Pacific Gyre, where it will circulate and break down into smaller and smaller pieces. It is also predicted that in five years, the tsunami debris will make its way back to the Hawaii’s reef and beaches for a second round of accumulation. More information can be found on the NOAA marine debris website.
The tsunami debris that the Pallada encountered helps scientists at the IPRC make more accurate projections about the future course of the debris. San Diego Coastkeeper’s beach cleanup data will help track potential accumulation or increases in debris on beaches and our team will report any increases or interesting finds. While we are unsure about how much, where and when the tsunami debris will hit, rest assured that our volunteers are doing their part through prevention, removal and data collection.
Many thanks to our 300 registered guests and dozens of Ocean Gala sponsors who helped us raise $100,000 this weekend. And congratulations to this year’s Coastal Champions Ashok Israni, CEO of Pacifica Companies, and David Alvarez, San Diego City Councilmember. Leaders like you give us hope that we will have fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters in San Diego!
And big kudos to all of our volunteers who helped make the event a success.
We’ll post more photos soon, but for now, here’s a short photo recap of the evening thanks to our volunteer photographer Jackie Loza.
Ever wonder about that fresh and clean “just after it rains” feeling?
It seems to feel the most refreshing after the first big rainstorm of the year, when months of accumulated dust particles and leaves are washed away from paved surfaces to the vast underground network of storm drains.
San Diego’s rainfall patterns are such that we typically go about five months without a major rain storm, so as you can imagine there is quite a layer formed on our roofs, streets, and in stagnant pools near storm drains. Unfortunately, the bacteria, trash, and other pollutants carried with the rain water are at high enough levels that we can’t even swim, surf or play in the water for three days after the storm. Welcome to the first flush.
To stormwater monitorers, “major” is anything that registers over one quarter of an inch of rain. That one quarter of an inch is just enough to really get trash moving, to raise the plastics, cigarette butts, food wrappers, Styrofoam, and soccer balls from their temporary resting places and transport them a little closer to their final resting place in the bay or ocean. It’s marine debris in the making. And as Travis describes in his blog post, it’s coastal pollution and beach closures in the making as well.
After the flush, a short field trip to the beach, bayfront or your neighborhood creek will give a glimpse of how much trash is loose in our environment, and how much gets transported to our world’s ocean and potentially the Pacific Gyre with each storm.
But what can we do to prevent this flush from being so impactful? I have a few ideas:
- Don’t litter, intentionally or unintentionally. This is a no-brainer for most of us. But it also includes every little piece of wrapper and cigarette butt. Pack it in, pack it out.
- Participate in cleanup events each fall. Coastal Cleanup Day in September, and Tijuana River Action Month through October, are important efforts which span the period between summer tourist season, bird nesting season and the first rain.
- Organize your own cleanup in your neighborhood streets and canyons. Coastkeeper’s Cleanup in a Box Program helps you do just that and gets us important data to aid marine debris reduction advocacy efforts.
- Help with Coastkeeper’s plastic foam outreach to restaurants to get less take out Styrofoam in our waterways. Always sign petitions and action alerts for better policy.
There is a very short window of time each year in which dedicated volunteers can attempt to tackle the insurmountable accumulation of trash and debris in the Tijuana River near Imperial Beach. It starts in September when nesting season ends for threatened birds such as the Least Bell’s Vireo and the Light-footed clapper rail, and culminates with the start of the rainy season (typically, late October) when storms make the riverbed too muddy and polluted for volunteers to enter. Various environmental groups have partnered to create activities during Tijuana River Action Month (TRAM), involving thousands of volunteers in native planting events, lectures, workshops and cleanups over just five weekends.
For our contribution to the 2nd Annual Tijuana River Action Month, San Diego Coastkeeper teamed up with cleanup sponsor 101.1 KGB and TRAM coordinators of WiLDCOAST to continue focused cleanup of an accessible reach of the riverbank east of the bridge on Dairy Mart Rd. As a seasoned veteran of cleanups in San Diego beaches, parks, canyons, and rivers, I have coordinated volunteers removing literally tons of trash in one morning from highly impacted areas in Chollas Creek, the San Diego River and post-4th of July celebrations in marshmallow-ridden Ocean Beach. Yet I have seen nothing as shocking as the accumulation of plastic foam and plastics in the Tijuana River Valley.
In San Diego County, the Tijuana River is by far the most polluted and troubling waterway for environmental professionals to try to address. The overarching challenge is that the Tijuana River Watershed is shared by two countries with vastly different policies protecting water quality. For example, Mexico has no bottle bill to encourage recycling of plastic bottles like we have in California; and limited organized trash collection (let alone recycling) from remote shanty neighborhoods, often situated on steep hillsides leading directly to tributaries of the river. And although some infrastructure exists to help reduce the pollutant loads entering the beautiful Tijuana River National Estuarine Reserve, large storm systems bring thousands of gallons of sewage, toxins and trash downstream.
About 70 volunteers at the October 15 cleanup started where volunteers the week before had left off and still managed to collect 1,340 lbs of debris. But ask any one of the volunteers how they spent their morning and its likely that their response will include the word Styrofoam. This river has layer upon layer of debris buried from different storms and sediment layers. We only approached the top layer – and even with an army of 200 people would not have collected every piece of foam from that 1.5 acre area.
There were all types of foam. Styrofoam cups and plates, packaging material and lots of that hard brown foam from inside of mattresses and cushions. It was hard to decide whether to go for larger pieces or smaller pieces and there was not enough time or hands to hardly make a dent in what was out there. We used buckets, trash cans and wheelbarrows to avoid using plastic bags – and the entire cleanup was zero waste. We did our part to reduce our plastic footprint – but what about all the people upstream? What will it take to spread the word about the environmental injustice and flow of plastic pollution from human hands to the sea?
It seems all we can do is lead the way. Improving our daily consumption habits and encouraging others to go green will keep the movement going forward. Volunteers will continue to turn out in droves to help remove this toxic plastic from sensitive riparian habitat. And Coastkeeper is beginning an outreach campaign to San Diego restaurants for support of plastic foam reduction policies. Larger, more sweeping policies for trash reduction may encourage elected officials and agencies to prioritize funding for trash capture devices, rather than relying on scattered volunteer efforts and allowing the downstream transport and burial of this material in our waterways.
“To myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
– Sir Isaac Newton
As any beach-goer knows, plastic foam (commonly known as Styrofoam) pollution is a huge problem on San Diego beaches. It is the third most common form of litter found in Coastkeeper’s beach clean-ups, and its prevalence is continuing to grow. The number of foam pieces has increased from 12,000 pieces in 2009, to 25,000 pieces in 2010. Immediate action is necessary to put a stop to the problem of plastic foam pollution.
Putting an end to plastic foam pollution was the goal of SB 568, which reached the state Assembly in mid-August 2011. The bill would phase out the use of plastic foam packaging for food vendors by 2016. SB 568 received significant opposition from restaurant owners and managers, who feared that making the switch from foam to a more sustainable option would affect their business’ financial stability. However, there are many similarly priced alternatives available and customers often appreciate sustainable options. In fact, many cities and municipalities all over California have already banned plastic foam with little to no impact on businesses. Unfortunately, opposition to SB 568 has caused the bill to be put on hold until further notice.
Although SB 568 has been set aside for now, many environmental groups are hard at work to generate support for future efforts to reduce plastic foam litter. At San Diego Coastkeeper, we are conducting outreach to San Diego food vendors, entreating them to switch away from plastic foam and to voice their support for alternative packaging. Help encourage your favorite restaurants to switch from plastic foam by requesting a sustainable alternative to plastic foam packaging, or contact me to learn how you can help.
As my first year helping coordinate Coastal Cleanup Day, I have heard a lot of stories about some of the interesting items found during the cleanup. In previous years they have found everything from a port-a-potty to a fencing sword, so I was looking forward to what ‘memorabilia’ this day brought.
Here is a list of some of the most noteworthy:
- Beach Umbrella- Oceanside Harbor
- Bag of Marijuana- Swamis Beach
- Cross bow- University Channel, La Mesa
- Drum set- Otay Valley Regional Park
- Hindu figure- San Elijo State Beach
- Two headless statues- La Jolla Shores
- Dentures- Santa Clara Point, Mission Bay
- Pepper spray- Dixon Lake, Escondido
- Waterbed- Manzanita Canyon, City Heights
- Military badge- Belmont Park
- Hood of car- Carmel Mountain Preserve
- Set of retainers- Lake Wolford
- Pregnancy kit- Dog Beach, Ocean Beach
- Spare ribs (initially thought to be human)- Carlsbad State Beach
- 1971 ID card- Border Field State Park
- Telephone pole- Buena Creek, Vista
- Mr. Potato Head- Eugene Canyon, Normal Heights
- And ironically, The Complete Guide to Environmental Careers- Maple Canyon, Park West
What were some items you found interesting at Coastal Cleanup Day this year?
It’s no secret that people want to help protect the environment. San Diego County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price said there’s no other issue that can unite differing politics than the protection of it. Yet, it seems, one of the biggest secrets about the environment is the public’s education to it.
As a reporter, I was sent to cover Coastal Cleanup Day, San Diego’s largest volunteering effort to pick up trash along the beaches and watersheds throughout the county Sept. 17. I had heard of events like this one over my years growing up in San Diego, but like many, I knew nothing about the event or how much maintenance these areas actually needed, or how much trash there really was to pick up.
At the San Dieguito Lagoon wetlands restoration site in Del Mar, more than 100 volunteers came out with the intent of spending the day doing something good for the environment and getting their “yard-work fix.”
Many of the volunteers I spoke with saw this as a great opportunity to help “beautify” their neighborhood. Some of the younger volunteers like 12-year-old Anna Szymanski knew that the environment was hurting and she wanted to help give back by planting native species at the wetlands site.
Since the wetlands restoration project began in 2006, 150 acres of wetlands have been restored. The project was instated with the hopes that it would offset any impact the ocean-water cooling system of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating station in San Clemente, approximately 40 miles to the north, would have on fish populations. The station’s ocean-water cooling system pumps in ocean water through a series of pipes and uses it to cool and condense steam, which then pushes the turbines to generate electricity.
Back at the lagoon, San Dieguito Park Rangers helped educate volunteers on identifying invasive species for removal from around the trails. With only six rangers to monitor over 150 miles of trail that ranges from the mountains to the coast, volunteer efforts like this one are a tremendous help in maintaining these areas, explained Park Ranger Natalie Borchardt.
Just two hours in to the event, volunteers had already removed more than 700 pounds of green waste. In what would have taken Borchardt a week to do on her own, took volunteers no time at all to get the trails in order.
Coastal Cleanup Day may only be one day a year, but as I’ve learned since then, volunteer work is happening every weekend in nearly every ecological system in the county. The Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation, for instance, hosts volunteer trail maintenance every Saturday; they’ve also recently hosted the 6th annual Kayak Cleanup Event, which gives volunteers a rare opportunity to kayak in the Batiquitos Lagoon Preserve while picking up trash along the shoreline. They also offer visitors a chance to learn all about the lagoon and the role it plays in the environment at their nearby Nature Center.
It is a complex world that we live in and distractions abound, but if we really wanted to help protect the environment, we’d first learn all we could about it.
Tony Cagala is an assistant editor/reporter for The Coast News and The Rancho Santa Fe News. Read his full story on Coastal Cleanup Day here.
Pay tribute to the working men and women by respecting the land upon which you celebrate! Despite the beach alcohol ban imposed in January 2008, the type of trash has changed, but not the amount. Based on our beach cleanup data, we have identified a few items that lead to the most beach trash and thought up easy replacements for you AND THE BEACH to have a good time.
What not to bring:
- Styrofoam: I know that cooler is super cheap, but Styrofoam is one of our top finds in our beach cleanups. It breaks up into tiny little pieces and flies into storm drains, bushes, the ocean, etc. It is not only unsightly and difficult to pick up, but it poses a threat to wildlife who mistake it for food. San Diego does not recycle Styrofoam, and Styrofoam is estimated to take over 500 years to biodegrade. Thus, every piece you ever use will be around for the next 5 generations of your own family!
- Plastic bottles: It may seem easy and convenient to bring your Sprite and Coke in those small individual plastic bottles, but try to opt for metal cans that are more cost-effective recyclables. Plastic is one of our Top Three Beach Trash items found in huge quantities at our cleanups and like Styrofoam, takes at least 500 years to biodegrade.
- Cigarettes: San Diego Coastkeeper collected 42,525 cigarette butts off the beach in 2010 and it has been illegal to smoke on San Diego beaches since 2006! If you must smoke, at least be responsible and get your butt in the trash can.
- Plastic Bags: These are so lightweight they will be out of your sight and into the sea in no time.
- Plastic-wrapped food: Try to avoid things that are heavily packaged in what will become trash! You won’t want to deal with it during your celebration, nor will the other partiers when it flies into their mouths.
What to bring:
- Reusable Cooler: This will be a good way to haul out trash once the beverages are gone!
- Tupperware: Pack sandwiches and pasta salad and other homemade goodies in Tupperware, then you can just stack and wash them later.
- Reusable water bottle: Buy your water/beverages in bulk and then you can refill your bottle throughout the day.
- Reusable bag: Pack it in, pack it out!
- Trash bags: If you are going to create trash, be prepared and have a place to stash it. It is likely someone didn’t bring their own bag and they trekked in tons of plastic bags. Ask around, make friends and you could reuse a plastic bag from another beach go-er. You can always reuse an empty chip bag for a trash bag; get creative!
- Finger Food and Napkins: Plastic utensils are not recyclable; what a waste of our precious non-renewable resources! Bring food that doesn’t require silverware. If you’re dead-set on coleslaw, bring chop sticks. You can always bring silverware from home and toss it back in the cooler with the Tupperware at the end of the day. Just make sure to have friends over the next day to help with the dishes.
Thank you for taking the time and care to reduce the amount of trash we create on our Labor Day! It is a time to respect our history, our progress, and yes, to party with friends. It is not too much to ask to plan ahead and take responsibility for the trash you create at your own celebration.
This is the tenth 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.
Like most of those who reside in San Diego, I love it here and I am proud to be a San Diegan. After a recent 2 year stint in Boston, MA (Yikes! It was freezing), this native Californian could not be happier to be back. So what does it mean to be from San Diego? What is so great about it? Why would you ever leave such a glorious region of an even more glorious state? These are all questions I faced when I left 2 years ago, and not just questions I asked myself, but questions I was faced with upon arriving in Bean Town.
First of all, there are no waves in Boston. Yes, Boston is a port city, the largest city in Massachusetts and surrounded by water; however, there is very little beach action in the immediate area (with the exception of Revere ‘beach’ which is actually just a waveless inlet). The water quality around the port (as it is near almost any port) is poor and downright gross. It led me to inquire how I could become involved in improving water quality in my new surroundings of New England. It did not take long for me to realize that the number of networks and organizations working toward improved water quality as well as environmental advocacy were limited (but still existed), unlike those I had become accustomed to being around in California. Bummer.
Whenever I was asked what there is to do in San Diego, my eyes always lit up and I rambled a millions miles a second – snorkeling around the cove in La Jolla, kayaking around Mission Bay, surfing Windansea, scuba diving around Scripps Institution of Oceanography, hiking the Torrey Pines State Reserve, stand up paddle boarding in Encinitas, sailing around San Diego Bay, The Del Mar Fair, I could go on forever. But it occurred to me I had lived in San Diego for 5 years prior to my move and hadn’t done more than three of those things. I was horrified. Needless to say, I was desperate to get back into the water and ready to dedicate myself to improving what I consider to be San Diego’s most valuable asset – its water.
San Diego Coastkeeper gives people the resources and opportunity to get involved with protecting our oceans, beaches and waterways in a way that is pretty unique. Opportunities to volunteer come in so many shapes and sizes and the best part is the flexible schedules and option to choose the events that are right for you.Wastewater discharge, marine debris and stormwater runoff are major threats to San Diego’s marine environment. I am stoked that I get to work with a network of dedicated and intelligent individuals, who work day in and day out to preserve our underwater playgrounds offshore by spreading the word on low impact development, organizing and supplying the tools for beach cleanups and conducting water quality monitoring.
The successes of San Diego Coastkeeper’s campaigns are incredible, like San Diego’s underwater state parks or marine protected areas (MPA’s) in south La Jolla and in North County at Swamis. I don’t know what to say other than these places are epic. The protected ecosystems are allowing biodiversity to flourish and creating healthy fishstocks to improve productivity. Stand up paddle boarding above Swami’s reef might be one of the most spectacular ways to see it all from above. San Diego’s Areas of Special Biological Significance (ASBS) along the La Jolla Shores and Scripps Institution of Oceanography are two of the coolest places to snorkel and see giant sea bass, leopard sharks and abalone.
It’s up to us as residents of San Diego to take pride in our environment and take ownership in maintaining, preserving and improving our surroundings. Giving my time to a cause that protects coastal and inland waters where I live, work and play is something that I believe in whole-heartedly.
What inspires you?
San Diego Coastkeeper and the San Diego chapter of the Surfrider Foundation have been working together for years to organize twice-monthly beach cleanups. Plastic foam (expanded polystyrene, known by the trade name Styrofoam™) has been one of the major contributors to marine debris for as long as we have been counting. The problem is getting worse, too. In 2009, volunteers picked up 12,000 plastic foam pieces. In 2010, that number climbed to 25,000, more than doubling in just one year.
Currently, California uses 165,000 TONS of plastic foam food containers annually, none of which are recycled. SB 568 is a bill currently in committee that would ban the use of plastic foam containers to hold prepared food by January 1, 2016. School districts get until July 1, 2017 to comply. The ban applies only to containers for food or beverages that have been “served, packaged, cooked, chopped, sliced, mixed, brewed, frozen, squeezed, or otherwise prepared for consumption” – and excludes only raw meats, which can still be sold in plastic foam containers. There is also an option for a municipality or school district to continue using plastic foam containers so long as at least 60 percent are verifiably recycled.
SB 568 would go a long way toward reducing the amount of plastic foam found on our beaches
and the amount mistaken for food by wildlife. It would also reduce the risk of cancers associated with using containers made with styrene, a carcinogen that leaches into food when it comes into contact with oils, grease, or acids or is heated. When was the last time you had takeout that wasn’t greasy?
So what can you do to help? On a personal, immediate level, try to avoid using or buying products in plastic foam containers. This might mean eating takeout less often. Try to talk to local business owners to convince them to switch away from plastic foam to reusable, more easily recyclable or compostable alternatives. For a more long-term solution, help change policies by letting your representatives know that you support SB 568. Click here to send an editable form letter in support of the bill. You can always contact Coastkeeper if you want to get more involved in our advocacy and outreach efforts about plastic foam.