Meditations in Blue

Written by Kristin Kuhn

San Diego Coastkeeper member, Water Quality Monitor, and beach cleanup host extraordinaire Amanda Sousa is a water lover in the truest sense. When she sailed from Ensenada to Oahu, Amanda experienced just how wondrously huge our ocean is and how quickly we become small in its presence. And yet, despite all this vastness, there was one persistent and unwelcome visitor from which Amanda could not escape. In her own words, Amanda describes how these constant encounters impacted her. 

No land in sight. Still, there was plastic.

No land in sight. Still, there was plastic.

I recently had the opportunity to crew on a passage from Ensenada, Mexico to Oahu, Hawaii on a 44-ft Leopard Catamaran owned by my dad’s friends, Ian Steele and Sharon Lockhart. I jumped at the opportunity to do some blue water sailing; to hop on the trade winds, experience falling seas, sail wing on wing and live the adventure. On the water, I was absolutely struck by the sheer grandeur of the ocean, I felt so small compared to its vastness.

Day after day there was no sight of land, and yet day after day I saw plastic. We did not chart a course into the Northern Pacific Gyre and were not looking for plastic, but there it was every single day. Over 19 days of different wind speeds, different currents and small swells to large swells, it was always there.

The plastic came in all different sizes from small fragments to ghost nets tangled in a large blob.  There was plastic that looked as if it just blown in the water from my home in Pacific Beach, plastic that looked as if it made its way overboard and plastic that had been floating for what looked like years. I started to feel that the ocean was a whole lot smaller.

Amanda Sousa, San Diego Coastkeeper volunteer of the yearIt pains me that the beautiful ocean, in all it’s splendor, has been so polluted by our trash. This plastic did not fall from the sky and there is no excuse for it being 1,200 miles from shore other than the disregard of our impact to this world. 

The damage that has been done is so pervasive and ubiquitous. It was heartbreaking to witness right in front of my eyes. In the deepest parts of my heart I love the oceans, the streams, the lakes and the rivers; I love the animals that live and depend on these water bodies (including all of us); I love the plants that bloom and creep in these places. This passage has reinforced my love of the beauty of the ocean and has also strengthened my conviction that we need to realize our impact. We must take active steps to eliminate this ubiquitous plastic from our lives, our world and our wild places.

Amanda sporting her swimmable, fishable, drinkable t-shirtI am a clean water advocate, I am a volunteer and I am a supporter of San Diego Coastkeeper. Collectively, we need to put more energy toward our most precious resource. Now more than ever, we need to take a hard look inside and decide what we want in this world. I have decided I want fishable, swimmable, drinkable water; I want wild places; I want the ocean to be just blue; I want to be small in the ocean again.

 

 

Published in Marine Debris

I’ll See You In The Water

MeganSanDiego6Since I joined San Diego Coastkeeper in 2009, protecting the health of our waters has meant I could pour every ounce of my professional effort into a cause that is deeply, personally meaningful to me and critically important for our region. And every day I work alongside a dedicated staff and board of directors that approaches the mission of fishable, swimmable, drinkable water with intelligence, humor and fearlessness. 

Joining San Diego Coastkeeper fulfilled my dream that meaningful work can be fun, and learning happens over a lifetime.

I can’t help but be exceedingly proud of all we have accomplished together.

  • Successfully advocated for Pure Water recycling in the City of San Diego
  • Won faster beach water quality testing
  • Achieved a new watershed-based permit that allows cities and agencies to collaborate to reduce pollution
  • Launched STEM “Water Kits” for elementary school kids all over the county
  • Expanded the state’s largest volunteer water quality monitoring program
  • Built partnerships with a wide range of community, industry and business groups

Now, after six and a half years with San Diego Coastkeeper, I’m ready for the next adventure—but I’m not going far! I’ll join San Diego Grantmakers as the senior director of collaborative philanthropy, a new position responsible for driving the organization’s member and cross-sector collaborations to address critical community issues. I will be with Coastkeeper until October 2, and you’re encouraged to help find our next leader by sharing our executive director job description.

executive director coastkeeper

Meanwhile, you’ll still find me swimming, surfing and playing in the water (checking Swim Guide before I go, of course!). And I’ll see you at the Seaside Soiree celebration on October 28.

As we celebrate San Diego Coastkeeper’s 20th anniversary, the path forward is clear. Our board approved a strategic plan that guides our continued success (don’t miss the big ‘reveal’ at the Seaside Soiree!). And our incredible staff continues to grow and to outdo itself in expertise and innovation. Twenty years of clean water accomplishments and the dynamic team we have in place provide an incredible foundation from which the next executive director will springboard to another two decades of clean water work.

It has been my absolute pleasure and privilege to lead San Diego Coastkeeper and what comes next promises to be even better.

For fishable, swimmable, drinkable water,

megan

Megan

Mission Bay Revealed

san diego beachIn 1892, the women of ZLAC Rowing Club first set oar to water and later moved to the club’s current location on Mission Bay. In 1995 San Diego Coastkeeper set about protecting our region’s waters. On Tuesday, June 25, 2013, the groups joined to present a two hour exploration of the theme, “Is Mission Bay Gross.” Four area experts reviewed Mission Bay’s ecological history, its current water quality, the City’s plans for maintaining and improving the health of the Bay and ways community members can get involved in finding and fixing problems.
 
• Rob Hutsel, executive director of San Diego River Park Foundation, discussed Mission Bay’s history (complete with some great old pictures & maps) and how it was transformed into one of the biggest recreational assets in San Diego. He revealed historical changes of the course of water flowing to the Bay from the San Diego River, and the Bay’s water circulation patterns throughout the year. His presentation to come.
 
• Dr. John Griffith, department head of microbiology of Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, compared Mission Bay’s water quality status with similar water bodies in the region. A water quality expert, he reviewed who does the testing, what kinds of tests are done, and what connects government water quality standards and human health. His presentation to come.
 
• Ruth Kolb, program manager at City of San Diego Transportation and Stormwater Department, discussed how Mission Bay got its bad reputation and how the City of San Diego has acted to improve the Bay’s water quality. See her presentation here.
 
• Mallory Watson, Community Engagement Coordinator at San Diego Coastkeeper, shared her expertise about current problems Coastkeeper sees affecting Mission Bay’s water quality and how community members can become involved in identifying and reporting problems and improving the water quality. See her presentation here.
 
At the end of the evening, we concluded that Mission Bay has come a long way from gross to great. Like with all water bodies that might suffer pollution, we suggest you check the Swim Guide for the most recent closure information before diving in. But the many swimming, boating and park recreational opportunities throughout the park are unique, fantastic and we’d say that today, Mission Bay is a Gem.
 
Join us at future informative events and volunteer opportunities by visiting the San Diego Coastkeeper calendar.

Annual Report Part III: Coastkeeper in 2012: Invaluable.

Part three of four in our Annual Report blog series highlighting everything Coastkeeper in the year of 2012.

I offer you one word to sum up Coastkeeper in 2012: Invaluable.

There should be nothing controversial about clean, plentiful water. But we have taken this resource too much for granted, and fixing our water-related problems has posed many challenges. For 18 years, San Diego Coastkeeper has taken up those challenges, proving itself an indefatigable watchdog and defender of San Diego’s waters.

In 2012 we upheld our commitment to our core mission of protecting and restoring fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters. And we developed new partnerships in a collaborative community-based spirit to better help us preserve and enhance our precious natural resources.

Sound invaluable? It is. It’s San Diego Coastkeeper. And it’s made up of an inspired and inspiring staff; a remarkable group of talented volunteers; a host of dedicated sponsors and members and a board of directors that is second to none in its spirit, commitment and skill.

I invite you to read our online recap of Coastkeeper’s top ten accomplishments for 2012. We proudly reflect on our first Community Advisory Council, our partnership with UCSD’s Global TIES program, our co-leadership of San Diego’s Water Reliability Coalition, our trainings to help educators teach environmental science to children, and much, much more.

Thank you for your continued support of fishable, swimmable, and drinkable waters in San Diego County.

 

Jo Brooks
President Board of Directors

 

Over-tapped: The Most Endangered River in the Country

How You and IPR Can Save the Colorado River

In its annual list of America’s Most Endangered Rivers of 2013, American Rivers has named the Colorado River as the number-one Most Endangered River in the country. Bob Irvin, President of American Rivers, identified that the Colorado River is “so over-tapped that it no longer reaches the sea.”

The Colorado River is, simply put, the lifeline of the Southwest. It supplies drinking water to 36 million people from Denver to LA, irrigates four million acres of land and supports a 26 billion dollar outdoor recreation economy.

Yet it currently stands as the Most Endangered River in America because of outdated water management that can’t respond to the pressures of over-allocation and persistent drought. This led American Rivers to sound the alarm for Congress to support state-of-the-art water supply programs that can positively and sustainably impact how the water in the Colorado River is managed.

This also highlights to the significance of what we can do in San Diego—both as a region through potable reuse and individually as water-conscientious citizens and community members.

Currently, the City of San Diego is deciding whether to move forward with full-scale water purification projects in San Diego. San Diego Coastkeeper and the Water Reliability Coalition—a groundbreaking collaboration between environmental and business-oriented groups—are encouraging the San Diego City Council to approve full-scale water purification projects to create more potable water in San Diego. Creating a reliable, secure local water supply is both good for the environment and good for business.

Potable reuse projects use special technology to purify water, leaving it extremely clean. Just how clean? The ultra-purified water is actually cleaner than the water we import from the Colorado River or the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The ultra-purified water can then be mixed with imported water either at a reservoir or at a drinking water treatment plant before it gets another round of treatment.

The City of San Diego has run a pilot project of this technology since early 2012. When they tested the ultra-purified water for over 300 compounds, the purified water met all drinking water standards. Not only that, but the purified water contained only two of the 91 Chemicals of Emerging Concern, while imported water that makes up the bulk of our drinking water contained 13 of these chemicals.

While the City of San Diego is working to implement potable reuse projects, there are a lot of things that we can do, both large and small, that can make an impact on water conservation efforts like that of saving the Colorado River. See what positive changes you can make to reduce your daily water use. And please contribute to Coastkeeper’s efforts with the City and other decision makers.

Together, we can make a lasting impact on San Diego’s water supply and save the Colorado.

 

 

Help Stranded Sea Lion Pups

I surf. But although I joke about it, I seldom shred or carve, and I certainly never go aerial except with a magnificent wipeout. Mostly, I just love being surrounded by the water and its power. Seeing dolphins, birds and sea lions makes any session just about perfect. About a year ago I was surfing off the shore in La Jolla on a relatively quiet morning when a baby sea lion popped its head out of the water to check me out. “Cute!” was my first reaction. Then it started swimming closer. And closer. Finally got close enough to bump its nose to my neoprene encased leg. At that point, “cute” battled in my mind with “please don’t bite me; please don’t bite me” and “where’s your mamma and is she feeling nervous?” I never saw mamma sea lion and the baby hung out for a while then cruised off to explore something else. But all day I felt like my presence in the ocean had been approved. (Yes, I realize that’s silly.)
That encounter is what comes to mind when I read about the alarming increase in stranded sea lion pups washing up on our local beaches. More than 1,000 baby sea lions have stranded in Southern California since the first of the year.  Normally that number would be less than 100. The federal agency that oversees ocean related issues, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) took the extraordinary step of declaring an Unusual Mortality Event (http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/mmume/) for California sea lions. In 20 years, that has happened less than 60 times in the entire United States. Though researchers have no conclusions yet, they say “[t]hese strandings are accompanied by observations of underweight pups on the breeding rookeries, signs that typically occur in association with food shortage,” said U.S. National Marine Mammal Commissioner and NMMF Scientific Advisory Board Member Dr. Frances Gulland. The increase in sea lions washing up on local beaches intensified over the Easter weekend and scientists have expressed serious concern since the traditional peak stranding season is just now beginning.
I took a call this afternoon from someone at Sunset Cliffs who found a stranded baby and didn’t know what to do. Although I spend my days at San Diego Coastkeeper working towards fishable, swimmable, drinkable water in San Diego County, I feel a little helpless about this. Luckily we have experienced partners who are the first-responders for this type of issue and are on the beaches right now to save the pups and in the labs trying to figure out how to stop the strandings. They need our support.
San Diego-based National Marine Mammal Foundation (www.nmmf.org) is helping rehabilitate the pups and you can help provide the funds they need to continue the work. Not only that, but the La Jolla-based Waitt Foundation (waittfoundation.org) issued a challenge grant in partnership with the San Diego Foundation that lets you increase your impact by joining a larger pool of funds.
Donations to the NMMF Emergency Fund <https://donate.sdfoundation.org/sdf/> will go directly to fund sea lion care and medical support.  And please, if you see a stranded seal or sea lion, please do not approach or attempt to aide it. Contact our local stranding network<http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/health/networks.htm#southwest> or local lifeguards or harbor police. For live animals, SeaWorld responds (800-541-7325) and you find a dead animal, call NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center (858-546-7162).
On a normal day, I encourage you to donate to San Diego Coastkeeper to help us continue our work. Today, I am sharing this information because when that baby sea lion nuzzled my leg, I took away the message that I am welcome in its home and have a responsibility to protect it any way I can. Today, donating to the NMMF Emergency Fund <https://donate.sdfoundation.org/sdf/> is what we can do.

save_the_seals_pupAbout a year ago I was surfing off the shore in La Jolla on a relatively quiet morning when a baby sea lion popped its head out of the water to check me out. “Cute!” was my first reaction. Then it started swimming closer. And closer. Finally, it got close enough to bump its nose to my neoprene encased leg. At that point, “cute” battled in my mind with “please don’t bite me; please don’t bite me” and “where’s your mamma and is she feeling nervous?” I never saw mamma sea lion and the baby hung out for a while then cruised off to explore something else. But all day I felt like my presence in the ocean had been approved. (Yes, I realize that’s silly.)

save_the_seals

That encounter is what comes to mind when I read about the alarming increase in stranded sea lion pups washing up on our local beaches. More than 1,000 baby sea lions have been stranded in Southern California since the first of the year.  Normally that number would be less than 100. The federal agency that oversees ocean related issues, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), took the step of declaring an Unusual Mortality Event for California sea lions. In 20 years, that has happened less than 60 times in the entire United States. Though researchers have no conclusions yet, “[t]hese strandings are accompanied by observations of underweight pups on the breeding rookeries, signs that typically occur in association with food shortage,” said U.S. National Marine Mammal Commissioner and NMMF Scientific Advisory Board Member Dr. Frances Gulland. The increase in sea lions washing up on local beaches intensified over the Easter weekend and scientists have expressed serious concern since the traditional peak stranding season is just now beginning.

save_the_seals_friendsI took a call this afternoon from someone at Sunset Cliffs who found a stranded pup and didn’t know what to do. Although I spend my days at San Diego Coastkeeper working towards fishable, swimmable, drinkable water in San Diego County, I feel a little helpless about this. Luckily we have experienced partners who are the first-responders for this type of issue and are on the beaches right now to save the pups and in the labs trying to figure out how to stop the strandings. They need our support.

San Diego-based National Marine Mammal Foundation is helping rehabilitate the pups and you can help provide the funds they need to continue the work. Not only that, but the La Jolla-based Waitt Foundation issued a challenge grant in partnership with the San Diego Foundation that lets you increase your impact by joining a larger pool of funds.

Donations to the NMMF Emergency Fund will go directly to fund sea lion care and medical support.  And please, if you see a stranded seal or sea lion, please do not approach or attempt to aide it. Contact our local stranding network or local lifeguards or harbor police. For live animals, SeaWorld responds (800-541-7325) and you find a dead animal, call NMFS Southwest Fisheries Science Center (858-546-7162).

On a normal day, I encourage you to donate to San Diego Coastkeeper to help us continue our work. Today, I am sharing this information because when that baby sea lion nuzzled my leg, I took away the message that I am welcome in its home and have a responsibility to protect it any way I can. Today, donating to the NMMF Emergency Fund is what we can do.

 

All photos credit: Marine Mammal Care Center (Fort MacArthur)

 

Published in Marine Conservation

Preview! Fine art at the Seaside Soiree

Have you checked your calendar? San Diego Coastkeeper’s 16th annual fundraiser: the Seaside Soiree is right around the corner! Start filling those little piggy banks because this year we will be featuring four amazing artists in our silent auction and for the right price, you can take a piece of them home.

A piece of their art, that is.

We know you put a lot of thought into your home and office decor, so we’re giving you online and gallery options to preview these beautiful pieces.

Abe-and-Myles-art-at-Re-GalleryWell known international nature photographer, Abe Ordover, brings you one of his “ripple” photos (left image at left) to this year’s silent auction. Combining his passion for photography with the power of technology, Abe Ordover’s finished pieces will take your breath away. Interested in an Abe Ordover overload? His Gallery and Studio is conveniently located in Solana Beach, California. And until November 3, you can preview the auction piece, which is hanging at Re-Gallery on Cedros. (Bonus: attend the Soiree and you can also enter to win a personalized photography master class with Abe.) 100% of proceeds benefit San Diego Coastkeeper. [Approximate value: $450]

Renowned local photographer and design guru Myles McGuinness presents a trifecta of surf themed wood prints (right image at left). Myles grew up traveling as a child, always living somewhere near water – either in the form of liquid or snow. He continues that tradition as part of the growing art and culture movement in Oceanside (attend his latest opening on Nov. 3). For someone who lives by the motto, “always go the extra mile,” you can certainly see the extra miles he put into his auction pieces, which you can see at Re-Gallery until November 3. “Sunset Glide” (8″x12″) (to be auctioned at the Seaside Soiree), plus “Terra Mar Glide” (12″x12″) and “Hidden Peak” (12″x12″) have a combined value of $1,100. 100% of proceeds benefit San Diego Coastkeeper.

stone-and-glass-auction-chair

Master glassblower James Stone of Stone and Glass will create a unique hand blown glass chair especially for this event. With all the sea life elements around you, you’ll feel like King Poseidon himself! James Stone combines his ocean-themed art with glass not just for beauty, but for a purpose. He wants people to realize that the ocean and everything in it, is a delicate ecosystem and we need to start treating it with a lot more TLC. What better way to get this issue across than through beautiful glass art… that you can sit on. James’ studio gallery is open to the public at the Bernardo Winery. [retail value: $12,000; opening bid: $8,000; 40-50% of proceeds benefit San Diego Coastkeeper]

Wyland "Dolphin Tribe"

Wyland never fails to delight and inspire. Here in San Diego Wyland Galleries Seaport Village is a magical realm of underwater imagery and sculpture. His whaling walls bring the sea to life in San Diego and Mission Beach. For the Seaside Soiree, Wyland donated a limited edition, signed and numbered lithograph, Dolphin Tribe. You’ll want to frame it and put it up where these playful ocean friends greet you every day. 100% of proceeds benefit San Diego Coastkeeper. [value: $1,210]

With the inspirational art of these four unforgettable artists, the Seaside Soiree is guaranteed to be a hit. So get dressed up, grab a drink, enjoy the ocean and we’ll meet you at the tables.

Our auction tables, of course.

Inquiries about the art can be directed to San Diego Coastkeeper at development@sdcoastkeeper.org or 619-758-7743 x103.

A Pollution Patrol Success Story

When you report a pollution issue to Coastkeeper, you’ll know that you were the catalyst to solving the problem.

Recently, a San Diego resident called our pollution reporting hotline to let us know that a neighbor was dumping paint into the storm drain. Nia, our education coordinator, took the call and passed the information on to me.  I sent the information to the City of San Diego’s stormwater hotline by e-mail, to swppp@sandiego.gov. In the e-mail, I asked the city to follow-up with me on the complaint so I could share the information with the concerned citizen.

A week later, Nia received another call from the concerned citizen because the problem was ongoing.  I also received an e-mail from the citizen, making the same complaint again.  I decided it was time to follow-up with the city to make sure the problem was addressed.

I called the City of San Diego’s Think Blue Hotline (619-235-1000) and asked the woman manning to hotline to help me get information I needed.  The woman was clearly busy and was reluctant to help because of all the other complaints she was fielding that day.  After some convincing, she finally gave me the information I needed.

It turns out that the city’s inspector had immediately responded to the complaint but had difficulty connecting with the residents causing the problem.  The day I followed up, the city inspector had been able to inform the resident that dumping paint down the storm drain is illegal and directed the residents to clean up the paint. The person who originally reported the issue to us told us that the efforts made a difference: “When I arrived home tonight the offending party was hard at work with a flashlight and a scrub brush cleaning up their mess.”

This story is a celebration of so many people doing good things–the concerned neighbor calling us and following up, Nia getting me the information and following up with me, the city inspector diligently working to connect with the offending resident, the city hotline intake person taking time out to help me get the information I needed, and ultimately even the resident finally cleaning up the mess they caused.

But it also shows where we can improve. First, the City of San Diego needs to do a better job of giving follow-up information to people who provide complaints.  I realize that sometimes complaints may merely be feuding neighbors tattling on one another, but many complaints are serious, legitimate complaints.  If those complaints are not actually problems for some reason, isn’t it better for everyone if the city explains why it isn’t really a problem?  And if the complaint was a legitimate problem that was resolved, shouldn’t the complaining person know that the problem was resolved and that they’ve made a difference?  I would love if the City of San Diego made their hot line complaints and resolution status public (keeping the identity of reporting individuals anonymous).  This way we can track where the problems are and notice when they are resolved.  I’m guessing the City of San Diego resolves more pollution problems than we know, and I would like to give the city credit for doing so.  I’d also like to help follow up where problems aren’t resolved, or do targeted outreach in neighborhoods that see the same issues over and over again.

This story also shows us that Coastkeeper and the municipal stormwater teams can’t be everywhere at once, spotting all the problems around the county.  We need informed citizens to be our vigilant eyes and ears in the community, spotting problems and help us get them resolved.  Coastkeeper is working on developing neighborhood-based education programs to ensure that people can be effective at identifying problems and getting them solved.

We need your help! It takes just a couple minutes to report a problem. You can report it to Coastkeeper online at http://localhost/sdcoastkeeper/act/report-a-pollution-incident.html or call our office at 619-758-7743 and leave a detailed message with your phone number. Or you can call City of San Diego Think Blue at 619-235-1000 or the county hotline at (888) 846-080. Together, we can achieve fishable, swimmable, drinkable San Diego waters.

Published in Urban Runoff

Coastkeeper Wins Two Bernays Awards

Bernays_San_DiegoIt starts like a bad joke—a lawyer, a scientist and writer walk into a room.

But that’s where it turns good. They put their heads together, strategically align their communications with their programs, and they win awards.

Last week, Public Relations Society of America San Diego and Imperial Counties honored San Diego Coastkeeper with two awards for our communications.

Our team won a Bronze Edward L Bernays Award of Excellence for our blog and a Silver Edward L Bernays Award for our crisis communication response to last year’s sewage spill. Both are the top honors in each category.

That’s no joke.

Along with Yana Titova, a long-term communications volunteer who coordinated so much of the work that lead to these awards, I attended the evening event packed full of the region’s most talented public relations agencies and in-house teams from organizations like the San Diego County Water Authority and City of San Diego.

Little ole us. A one-person department depending on a rockstar volunteer and thoughtful writing and expertise from program staff and organizational leadership. Little ole us with zero budget and no expert agency on hand to help. We won.

Like so much of our work at San Diego Coastkeeper, it is just us. Our Waterkeeper Jill Witkowski is often the sole voice at the Regional Board asking for more effective controls to stop urban runoff from polluting our waves. Our Water Quality Lab Manager Travis Pritchard is one person running a volunteer-driven countywide water quality testing program to help the region understand what pollution damages our waters. It’s Jill that is the one person commenting on the San Diego Bay Cleanup Team’s poor communications plan because the communities that will be impacted by the massive cleanup deserve an effective strategy.

And you know what? We like those odds.

We’re small and nimble. We’re creative and connected. We’re dedicated to protecting and restoring fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters for every resident and visitor in San Diego County. And we know that one voice isn’t really just one voice. Our voice is the megaphone for each of you—our volunteers, our supporters, our members and the families and workers in San Diego County that rely on clean waters to live happy, healthy lifestyles.

A scientist, a lawyer and writer walk into a room. And they bring with them thousands of San Diegans each wanting fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters. And they get results.

It’s not a joke at all.

Not a part of our movement yet? Become a member today.

 

 

 

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.

1-group-shot

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.

 

2-diver-with-debris

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!

 

3-nudibranch-with-debris

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.

 

4-nudibranch

Nudibranch

 

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!

 

5-octopus-in-can

Peekaboo!

 

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…)

 

6-octopus-with-diver

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

 

7-kayak-support-team

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.

8-trash-station-display

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

–Dan Prosperi

Published in Marine Debris