The Great Trash Migration


At any moment, millions of individuals are migrating. Literally tons of animal mass moving from the ocean depths to the surface (zooplankton’s diel vertical migration), from the North Pole to Baja California and back (Gray whales make the longest animal migration), from Arizona to San Diego each summer (We all know about the influx of “zonies” on our local beaches). These Great Migrations pale in comparison to the daily movement of common pieces of litter from human hands to the Pacific Ocean.

Coastkeeper’s March 2011 Signs of the Tide forum focuses on this Great Trash Migration, since the larger problem of trash in the oceans is coming from inland areas. The event’s speakers come from the State Water Board to talk about storm water management of trash, EDCO Disposal to talk about where trash comes from and where it goes, and the Friends of 47th St. Canyon to talk about how community members are cleaning up trash in local canyons. San Diego City Council Member Todd Gloria will moderate the event, taking questions from the audience and guiding the conversation.

My contribution to the topic discusses San Diego Coastkeeper’s beach cleanup data and our Coastal Cleanup Day data. The information our volunteers collect at cleanups tells us a lot about what’s escaping into our environment – and where. There is a big difference in the trash problems facing beaches and those in more inland areas. For example, our beaches see higher numbers of certain single-use plastic pollutants, such as cigarette butts and small pieces of Styrofoam, while our inland cleanup sites see more of the larger items associated with illegal dumping. Either way, it all flows downstream and threatens marine life. Anything we can do on land to stop the Great Migration of trash to the ocean, from cleanups to policy change to reusable water bottles, will help our ocean environment.

To learn more about the Great Trash Migration, attend the Signs of the Tide event. To help stop the Great Trash Migration, become a Coastkeeper member.



Published in Marine Debris

If Only We Knew: Bishop’s 6th Grade Hits the Beach with Gloves and Trash Bags

Christina Gaffney (’17) waved her latex-gloved hand at the black water and pieces of trash flowing from a storm drain at Mission Bay Park. “See that?” she said. “I want to help stop that.”

bishopIn December, the Bishop’s 6th grade class joined forces with San Diego Coastkeeperto sweep the beach, collect garbage, and record data on their findings. Within an hour, students collected 41.75 pounds of trash: 307 cigarette butts, 261 pieces of Styrofoam, 189 plastic food wrappers, and 108 plastic bags, among other more exotic pieces of refuse like a pair of navy blue cargo pants, a toy seahorse, a dead duck, and a kite-sized piece of fiber glass, which 6th grader Nico Langlois fished out of the bay as his classmates held onto his limbs to keep him from plunging headfirst into the water.

Data recorder Katie Maysent (’17) explained, “It is important to record data on the garbage we find. If we know all the things going into the ocean, we can know what to recycle and reuse so they don’t go into the storm drains.” San Diego Coastkeeper, the region’s largest professional organization protecting San Diego’s inland and coastal waterways, uses cleanup data to communicate pollution prevention needs to decision makers.

The experience was an eye-opener for these students. Who knew that seemingly innocuous debris discarded miles inland – candy wrappers, cigarette butts, and Styrofoam bits the size of fingertips – can wreak so much damage on our coastal ecosystem? But that’s exactly what is happening, according to San Diego Coastkeeper, the county’s largest professional environmental organization protecting the region’s inland and coastal waters for the communities and wildlife that depend on them. Alicia Glassco, Marine Debris CoordinatorProgram Manager, taught the students that litter and trash blown inadvertently by the wind makes its way to the coast from storm drains, canyons, creeks, and rivers. But the scary part is what happens when it reaches the ocean.

bishop2Researchers estimate that 60-80 percent of all marine debris, and 90 percent of floating debris, is plastic. Plastic and Styrofoam are petroleum-based products that take hundreds of years to break down in the marine environment. Instead of biodegrading, plastic breaks into smaller and smaller, sometimes microscopic, pieces. Currents transport this plastic soup to a large gyre in the center of the open ocean, where it is accumulating in a so-called “Garbage Patch.” Here, plastic pieces can outnumber plankton by a ratio of 6:1. This number is likely increasing. The plastic looks like plankton, so fish consume it. Either the fish die or get consumed by something else, thereby transmitting the toxic petroleum on up the food chain.

The implications are dire for our oceans and ourselves, and sometimes it seems that the problem is too big, but as the 6th graders learned, hope lies in each of us. One of the goals of San Diego Coastkeeper is to educate the public and provide opportunities for it to help.  We can become members of and donate to this and other organizations whose mission is to protect our environment. We can volunteer. We can stay informed; knowledge is power. And we can vote accordingly. We can change our own habits – lead by example, carry cloth shopping bags, pick up after ourselves, get metal water bottles instead of buying plastic, use less water, think before we fertilize, reduce, reuse, recycle, ride our bikes, remember and teach that plastic lasts forever.

Bishop’s tries to teach its students that they can make a difference in this world. Small changes help. Spread the word.

Shocker! Cleanup data shows plastic still plagues San Diego beaches.

One of the best things about San Diego Coastkeeper’s beach cleanup program is the collection of data by our volunteers. While some volunteers find the idea of tallying up hundreds of cigarette butts or pieces of Styrofoam daunting, the information gathered from data cards is an essential part of communicating about the trash problem(s) on our local beaches.

cardiff-2009-021-sThe most comprehensive data set we have is from our twice-monthly Saturday cleanups that we facilitate in partnership with the San Diego Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation since 2003. We analyze the totals from beach to beach and year to year, and also look at the total numbers of certain items that are common nuisances on our beaches (like those pesky plastic bags!). We started collecting tally cards in 2007 and since then have seen some shocking trends in our beach cleanup data . Here are the highlights from the 2010 data overview:

· Six of the top ten items collected at our cleanups are composed of plastic. This is a concern because plastic pollution does not biodegrade in the ocean environment and can persist for many years.
· All of the plastic items counted have increased in number since 2007.
· Styrofoam pieces have doubled in number from 12,000 pieces in 2009 to 25,000 pieces in 2010.
· Volunteers collected over 42,000 butts from beaches and boardwalks in 2010. It sounds like a lot, but it’s actually a decrease from 2009 and halted the increasing trend of the previous three years (hey – some good news!)


All of the work Coastkeeper is doing by coordinating these cleanups will decrease marine debris in the ocean. Join us to volunteer by adding the Beach Cleanup schedule to your calendar, and checking our San Diego Coastkeeper events calendar regularly to find announcements about other cleanups and green events. You can also listen to the experts talk about inland sources of debris at our March 2011 Signs of the Tide community forum. Or just renew your Coastkeeper membership and let us do the dirty work with the volunteers. No matter what, our everyday choices make a difference with marine debris.

Published in Marine Debris

Hardcore Bridgepoint Heroes brave rain to clean up Mission Beach


Photo credit Allen Beauchamp

I don’t know what you define as “hardcore,” but I think showing up for an outdoor volunteer event during a rare San Diego downpour fits the bill. The team from Bridgepoint Education did just that for a beach cleanup on Oct. 30 in Mission Beach. They showed their enthusiasm for working together and helping their community when participating in the inaugural volunteer event of the Bridgepoint Heroes program. I couldn’t believe so many people braved the weather to show their support for their coworkers, company and ocean–they’re a great team!

Although it rained, it was actually perfect timing to get trash that had washed up onshore after the infamous “first flush,” the first rain event of the season that transports pollutants, litter and debris downstream from our urban neighborhoods. These eager volunteers collected over 2,472 cigarette butts, 780 pieces of plastic, 480 pieces of (wet) paper, 280 plastic food wrappers and 245 plastic lids, cups and straws (Collecting data in the rain = HARDCORE!). In total, over 115 volunteers collected 370 pounds of trash and plastic pollution from the sidewalks, alleyways, beaches, and parking lots around Belmont Park. They even found some unusual items including a boat ladder, a bra, a tiki torch can and a toy sword (from Halloween revelers, perhaps?).

The volunteers were well rewarded for their efforts. While the hot coffee station was an extremely popular spot in the chilly weather, volunteers also received an extra layer to keep warm (a Bridgepoint Heroes t-shirt), and they even got some Belmont Park roller coaster passes that were leftover from Coastal Cleanup Day (Riding a roller coaster in the rain = HARDCORE!).

Bridgepoint Education (NYSE: BPI), is a provider of postsecondary education services focused on providing higher access to higher education. This cleanup was part of San Diego Coastkeeper’s sponsored cleanup program. Coastkeeper is proud to have partnered with Bridgepoint and hopes to continue working with other companies like them to bring their employees to an outdoor volunteer opportunity, which helps the San Diego environment. (Giving back to your community = HARDCORE!)

Published in Marine Debris

Confessions of a Momentarily Lapsed Environmentalist


I have a confession.

Last week, I drank bottled water from a single-use plastic bottle.

I didn’t mean to, but I was at choir practice, and I was really, really thirsty after all that singing, and we still had an hour of singing left. I forgot to bring my own reusable water bottle, and there was nary a water fountain in sight. The case of bottled water was just sitting there, pleading for parched singers to take one.

I couldn’t help myself….

The water was cool and refreshing, soothing my Beethoven-worn pipes.  Yet as I walked back to take my seat in the rehearsal room, I felt a creeping sense of shame.  How could I face the woman sitting next to me, after we had just had that nice conversation before rehearsal started about how I was so excited to be working for a great organization protecting our coast from pollution and marine debris?  

As I sat down in my seat with a plastic single-use water bottle in my hand, I had to explain myself to the woman sitting next to me.  “You know, I’m really kicking myself for not bringing a reusable water bottle to rehearsal tonight.  I ran out of the office quickly and forgot to grab it.  I just hate using these plastic bottles because they’re so bad for the environment and so many of them end up in a huge garbage patch in the middle of the Pacific Ocean!”

My fellow soprano listened politely and nodded and then opened her score.  She was judging me; I knew it! I promised myself I’d never forget my reusable water bottle again and hoped that I didn’t make too much of a fool of myself.

At the break during this Monday’s rehearsal, I ran into the woman I had sat next to the week before.  To my surprise, she said to me, “Hey, I’ve been trying to cut down on using plastic water bottles since we talked about it last week!”

I was stunned… and then elated.  Here I was, crushed, thinking that I was setting such a bad example.  But what I hadn’t realized is that my momentary lapse in sustainable behavior gave me an opportunity to teach a new friend about the perils of single-use plastics.

So even if we can’t be perfectly sustainable all the time, we can still teach others about why sustainable practices are important.

Published in Marine Debris

A car hood, a toy piano and a pair of antlers?



As co-coordinator of Coastal Cleanup Day in San Diego County, one of my favorite parts of the day is returning to the office to see what interesting items are reported from our data cards.

At this year’s Coastal Cleanup Day, our volunteers came back with some memorable ones that I thought the blog world might enjoy:

•    Car hood – Fiesta Island
•    RV port-a-potty – Borderfield State Park
•    Traffic ticket for an open container – Ocean Beach
•    Baby’s devil costume – Tijuana River at Dairy Mart Rd
•    Hello Kitty children’s piano – City Heights (a young volunteer was very excited to acquire this hand-me down)
•    Antique leather football helmet and a mannequin – National City
•    Newspaper stand – San Diego Bay
•    Fake pair of antlers and a Norwegian passport (if anyone knows Stine Grytten Nærum, please tell her to call me) – Pacific Beach
•    Model rocket fuel – Chula Vista, Salt Creek
•    Bag of drugs (found by a troop of girl scouts) – Imperial Beach, South Bay Wildlife Refuge
•    Christmas Tree (in September) – Lemon Grove, Bakersfield Drainage Ditch
•    Model ship – Southcrest Community Park
•    Styrofoam foot with a sandal on it – Vista, Buena Creek
•    Refrigerator door – Otay Valley River Park
•    And of course, the proverbial kitchen sink – Rolando Park, Zena Canyon

Thankfully, our site captains reported less hazardous and electronic waste than in previous years so maybe this means that the message is getting across about disposing of these materials appropriately (maybe?). While it’s sad to think of all the trash in our environment that needs collecting year after year, at least we can find the humor in the world around us and the interesting waste of us crazy humans.

Published in Marine Debris

Don’t let ACC’s trickery fool you! Plastic bags are bad

captionWhy is this year’s plastic bag ban (AB 1998) struggling in its final days in the CA state legislature? It’s hard to argue the fact that 19 billion of these bags are used in California each year, while only five percent of them get recycled and the rest are choking our landfills and waterways or killing wildlife.

But somehow, the plastics industry lobbyists from the ACC (American Chemistry Council, AKA the devil) are using fear tactics and gross overstatements in a new ad campaign that must be costing hundreds of thousands of dollars.

They’ve also created a website called Stop the Bag Police that is overflowing with disinformation and a list of businesses that were undoubtedly mislead about the intent and consequences of the bill.

To set the record straight:

  • First, most of the plastic bag manufacturers are based in Texas, not California.
  • Second, plastic distributors and companies in California sell a diverse portfolio of items with plastic bags making up a small portion of their overall sales (no lost jobs!).
  • Third, the ACC should have been working with their industry factories five years ago when we first met with them to tell them about the harms plastic bags create for our environment, knowing that this change for sustainability was coming down the line.
  • Fourth, you want green jobs?  How about a boom for the 19 reusable bag companies based in California?

This bill is a win-win with a LONG list of supporters (download a list of supporters in San Diego ), and the legislators who are behind it should be applauded for protecting our collective future.

There are about 4 days left to contact your senator to vote Yes on AB 1998. DO IT.

Published in Marine Debris

Take Action – Ban Plastic Bags


Each year, the average consumer uses 500 plastic bags. Each of these 500 plastic bags cost the taxpayer as much as 17 cents in recycling, collection and disposal—totalling $85 per year. Support AB 1998 to save our environment and your tax dollars. Photo credit Matthew Meier Photography

It’s down to the wire. With days to go until the legislative deadline of August 31, we need to push HARD to get AB 1998 to the front of the agenda. If you haven’t already, please write AND call your senator to tell them you support Assembly Bill 1998 to rid the state of single-use plastic bags.

We all know that single-use bags are bad for our environment, but did you know that they are also bad for our California economy? Litter from single-use plastic items decreases tourist values and costs local governments and private businesses millions of dollars each year to cleanup. To stop the flow of debris from our hands to the sea, we need legislation such as AB 1998 that will affect the entire state. This bill will ban plastic single-use bags and require recycled paper bags be sold at supermarkets, retail pharmacies and convenience stores throughout California, thus pushing Californians towards the sustainable choice—REUSABLE BAGS!

Want to get more involved?

Help us get last minute supporters by forwarding this link to friends and neighbors, sending in a letter on behalf of your business or contacting Coastkeeper for more information.

Published in Marine Debris

Ban Plastic Bags

California’s ocean economy is valued at $43 billion, including an estimated 408,000 jobs mostly in the tourism and recreation sectors. But plastic bags are littering our waterways and our coasts, threatening the marine environment, damaging our economy, and creating a potential hazard to human health. Join in the fight against plastic bag waste by SUPPORTING AB 1998!

dsc00052-sAssembly Bill 1998 (AB 1998) will ban plastic single-use bags and require recycled paper bags be sold at supermarkets, retail pharmacies, and convenience stores throughout California. Passage of this legislation is a major step in breaking our addition to single-use bags and reducing the environmental and economic impacts of plastic bag pollution in inland and coastal communities.

State agencies in California spend $25 million every year to clean up plastic single-use bags that end up in our waste stream. This value doesn’t include the millions of dollars that local governments must spend in street sweeping, litter prevention and outreach programs, and cleaning up trash-impaired waterways. Our time and money can be put to better use.

We urge you to join the fight to BAN PLASTIC BAGS and reduce trash in our waterways and on our beaches!

Please sign this letter telling your California State Senator that you support AB 1998 to ban single-use plastic bags. Try to send in a letter of support on behalf of the business you work for, and show that this bill will not negatively impact our California economy. Contact Coastkeeper for more information.

Published in Marine Debris

How Qualcomm Does It

Not everyone gets to spend Friday afternoon on the beach and then enjoy a delicious cookout with a bunch of cool people and call it “work.” I love my job! At the end of June, I headed down to Mission Bay for a sponsored beach cleanup with about 60 employees from Qualcomm.

These folks know how to do team activities right!

They showed up together, had team colors and a scavenger hunt, and then all hung out for lunch and some pickup football afterwards. Everyone was really engaged, asking questions about marine debris and plastic in the ocean. Luckily, I had San Diego Coastkeeper’s outreach intern with me to answer the really detailed questions. The most common comment was, “When we got here I thought the place looked so clean! But then when we started picking trash up, I couldn’t believe how dirty it was!”

All told, we collected 156 pounds of trash in about two hours, got a good tan and met some new people. Pretty phenomenal.

Published in Marine Debris