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.
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.
It 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.
I 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.
This is a story about a 12-year-old girl from San Diego who loves surfing, art and making the world a better place. One day she contacted San Diego Coastkeeper to share her story, and what we heard was not only impressive, it is an inspiration.
Paige realized that there was a big problem the world faced – ocean pollution. She knew that much of our trash ended up in one of her favorite places, the ocean, making it dirty and unhealthy for the marine creatures that lived there. What she did next proves that anyone could make a positive impact when they take action. Starting with a recycling program at her school, we’re excited to see the impact her newest project will make.
I asked our little ocean hero to share her story and this is what she told us:
Coastkeeper: What inspired you?
Paige M.: “My 4th grade teacher at Del Mar Pines School inspired me to start the recycling program. She asked if I could do one thing to make the world a better place, what would it be?”
CK: When did you start the project?
PM: “I started planning for the project in the spring of my 4th grade year but officially launched the recycling program the fall of my 5th grade year.”
CK: How many students participated in the recycling program?
PM: “Everyone at school – students and their families, staff and teachers – are welcome to participate. We host collection days on campus twice a month where families can bring their recyclable plastic drinking bottles from home. I also placed specially marked collection bins around campus that my committee and I check weekly.
CK: Why did you want to take on this project?
PM: “Our landfills only have limited space. Recycling helps take out a lot of unnecessary waste in the landfills. If we recycled every plastic bottle we used, we would keep two billion tons of plastic out of landfills. It’s also cool to see all the things that recycled bottles can become – like sleeping bags.”
Paige makes her moves
Paige started a recycling program to raise money for her school foundation. She created an education program and recruited a committee of schoolmates to help. In the fall of 6th grade, Paige designed a charm bracelet using the water bottle logo she created for her recycling program. She sold the bracelets and donated the money to water.org, a charity that produces safe drinking water in Africa, South Asia and Central America.
She also wrote and illustrated a short story called “Kayas Undersea Adventure.” The story is about a girl who goes surfing and gets transported to an underwater world that’s polluted. The surfer girl returns home and finds ways to encourage others to correct the pollution she had seen. Paige dedicated her book to San Diego Coastkeeper, because she thinks that our mission of keeping San Diego’s waters fishable, swimmable and drinkable is cool!
She thinks the best way to convince kids to make a difference is to hear it from other kids. Her parents are looking into publishing her story and donating the proceeds from sales to San Diego Coastkeeper. If you want to help just contact us.
When I look at this photo, I see a wave I would normally kill to ride- with the exception of the surrounding wall of trash. I instantly visualize an ocean littered with garbage, paddling through oil and debris during my sunset surf. The amazing feeling I normally get just wouldn’t be the same if I had to dodge water bottles and was paranoid about swallowing the contaminated water.
Trash surrounds us everywhere we go on land. Between all the street litter, garbage days, overflowing trash cans and street sweeping, isn’t the water the one place we can get away from it all?
It is, but at a cost. According to the L.A. Times, San Diego spends close to $14 million annually on coastal cleanup efforts. Can’t you think of about 14 million ways this money could be used better? Yes, I want my waters to be clean so I can swim, surf and snorkel, but why do we have to spend so much money cleaning them up when we can simply prevent the problem in the first place?
One of the biggest inhibitors to keeping our waters clean is urban runoff. This is the water that runs through populated, man-made areas and picks up oil, grease, pesticides, metals and other toxic chemicals as it trickles directly into our water bodies. This not only makes our waters gross, but also harms the marine wildlife.
To do its part in cleaning up the community, San Diego Coastkeeper and Surfrider Foundation San Diego Chapter get together and host regular beach cleanups throughout the county. In 2012, 4,308 volunteers removed almost 8,000 pounds of trash from San Diego beaches. And still residents pay for regular trash control from the city. Houston, we have a serious problem.
As a self-proclaimed water-lover (as I imagine most San Diegans are), I make a point to be aware of how my actions on land effect the waters I treasure and I think others should do the same. To do your part in keeping our ocean, bay and streams pollution-free, please check out some pollution prevention tips. We may live mostly on land, but we need the sea. I can’t imagine a life of polluted waters and trash littered barrels, and I will do whatever it takes to keep that photo from becoming a reality in San Diego.
This is part 4 of a 5 part series of results from our water monitoring lab. This post was written by the folks over at Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Chapter. If you haven’t read our watershed report, head over here and check it out. In this fourth part, we are going to take a look at the Tijuana River Valley.
The Tijuana River Valley has a decades-long history of water quality issues. Significant improvements in the arena of wastewater treatment in recent years have improved water quality on both sides of the border. However, storm water continues to bring substantial amounts of sediment and trash and other contaminants into the Valley from sources in both the United States and Mexico. The sediment and trash pollutants cause water quality impairments, threaten life and property from flooding, degrade valuable riparian and estuarine habitats and impact recreational opportunities for residents and visitors.
In 2008, the Surfrider Foundation, San Diego chapter started the No Border sewage Campaign. Through No Border Sewage, we have raised awareness, outreach and education of this incredibly overwhelming problem. Additionally, a network has formed of like-minded organizations. Through this network, consensus and collaboration has been built to address the conservation and restoration of the entire Tijuana River Watershed.
The Tijuna Watershed is 1,739 square-miles, with one quarter in the US and three quarters in Mexico. The city of Tijuana is on average about 300 feet higher than Imperial Beach. During the wet winter season, rain picks up pollutants as it washes across dirt roads, streets and urban canyons in the outskirts of Tijuana. In these canyons, tens of thousands live in ramshackle villages called Colonia’s. Population in Tijuana grows every day. In 1980, there were 500,000 people, and in 2013, it is projected there will be more than 2,500,000, much of whom are not hooked up to sewer lines. Population explosion is fueled by jobs at the maquiladora plants, which thrived after the US ratified the North American Free Trade Agreement. This explosive growth causes signifigant pollution. For example, rain from a December 17, 2008 storm caused the river to spew an estimated 3 billion gallons of contaminated water into the Pacific Ocean in one 24-hour period.
Surfrider has been involved with the border sewage issue for over a decade, fighting to avoid the negative environmental impacts and public health risks of discharging any raw sewage and debris directly into the ocean. One of the main goals of Surfrider’s No Border Sewage Campaign is to eliminate border sewage, pollution, solid waste, chemicals and sediment that flows across the Tijuana River during rain events. These pollutants are emptied into the ocean during dry events and close the beaches in Imperial Beach for half the year.
Imperial Beach has a rich and thriving surf culture and has contributed greatly to the history and roots of surfing in San Diego. The Tijuana Sloughs (pronounced slew) is a world class big wave break that was a gold standard for heavy-water surfing in Southern California beginning in the late 1930s. The pioneer wave riders of the Sloughs include local IB Lifeguard legend, Alan “Dempsey” Holder, Peter Cole, Kimble Daun and Ron “Canoe” Drummond. Today the massive and imposing waves still break on a serious Northwest swell but go largely un-ridden because the Sloughs act as the unloading dock for the Tijuana River, receiving some of the most repulsive water this earth has wrought. The solution can be achieved if the U.S. works with Mexico rather than pointing blame at Mexico.
As part of our commitment to improve coastal water quality in the border region, Surfrider is committed to working with other environmental organizations to operate as a strong united front whenever possible. Volunteers from Surfrider Foundation Blue Water Task Force have been heavily involved in volunteer activities in the Tijuana River Valley. Through a key partnership with San Diego Coastkeeper, No Border Sewage volunteers have tracked source point pollution during dry and wet weather events. On a monthly basis, volunteers hike out to three different locations within the Tijuana River Valley and Estuary and take water samples that are backed by state-approved quality control standards. During the winter season, we collect samples from Dairy Mart Road Bridge, which is the first natural filter for the trash, sediment and sewage that flows across the border. Volunteers literally walk through piles of plastic, Styrofoam, tires and trash sometimes as high as 10 feet to get to the shore line and take the samples. The mud is largely comprised of sediment which also poses as a danger when walking through it. It is almost as if you are sinking in quicksand. Other sampling site sites include the Hollister Street Bridge and Saturn Road, which are next to Suzy’s Farm. These locations are heavily flooded during rain events due to the hydrology of the River Valley and lifeguard rescues are a common occurrence.
During the summer season, volunteers hike out to three locations within the Tijuana Estuary that are further west than the winter season locations. The first stop is the Visitor Center Bridge. On any given day, you see a variety of birds, and if you are lucky a glimpse of an endangered clapper rail foraging in the pickle weed. Peregrine falcons, Snowy Egrets and Blue Herons also frequent overhead as you collect your water samples. From there, we hike out to the Grove Avenue Bridge and the Oneonta Slough River mouth. The river mouth is about a four mile hike and is breathtaking. The smell of saltwater, breathtaking views of the iconic Bullring and Lighthouse to the south in Mexico and the beautiful downtown San Diego skyline to the north make this trip a memorable one each and every time. The trail that leads to the Slough River mouth is named after Dr. Mike McCoy, who spearheaded the 10-year effort to save the estuary from a proposed marina created by dredging the Tijuana Estuary. He recognized the importance of preserving it and its wildlife as one of the last intact salt marsh ecosystems in Southern California.
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.
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!
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…)
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!
Have you noticed a recent trend of half-trashed pet waste on area beaches, parks, and trails? I’ve seen bags of the stuff left along the shore and have a feeling the owners are never coming back for the bags. Like throwing something towards a trash can and letting the wind take it away, some people take steps to do the right thing, but for some reason can’t complete the action. I call this half-trashing it, and people do it every day. Let’s use Earth Week to tell those people to stop.
My local observation from San Diego is happening all over the world – this BBC article uses cleanup data to cite a 71% increase in the stuff on Scotland beaches. But why?
I have an inkling that many people believe the reason to pick up pet waste is to avoid the embarrassing social situation when someone has stepped in the stuff. They aren’t connecting the waste with water pollution – or if they do, perhaps they they think bagging it up at least gets the bacteria contained so it can’t enter runoff. Haven’t these people heard about plastic bags choking sea turtles!?
Pet waste and plastics cause serious problems for our coastal water quality, so don’t half-trash it. SD county Stormwater has some information and brochures to help you if you need some tips to share with your neighbors.
You could also take it a step further – a 2010 Treehugger post suggests that true Earth Lovers take the bag home and empty the bag to flush the poo. But then do you have to reuse the bag afterwards? I sure hope not.
Just don’t half trash it and you’re on your way to being an Earth Day rock star.
Landfills, garbage trucks, dumps, incinerators, recycling centers, waste, sanitation, sewage and rubbish. These words represent a daily and necessary function of our society – trash. In all of its glory, trash is the absolute proof that humans have forgotten how to live like our animal counterparts. Animals of the wild have neither respect nor disrespect for the natural world because they lack the intention to harm or improve the environment. Only humans have the intent and ability to distinguish certain acts or if the species are beneficial or destructive. For instance, compare urban runoff and oil spills in the Mexican Gulf to beach cleanups and Earth Day. The former is labeled as destructive and the latter is beneficial.
This blog post is not meant to say we should live like monkeys nor is my intent to say we should stop protecting the environment and picking up trash from our coasts. I merely aim to bring attention to this daily function – the average American produces 4.6 pounds of trash a day – and how unnatural it truly is. Waste is unnatural because nothing is wasted in nature; every atom is reused on a natural life cycle. Only humans have taken these atoms and created molecules that are unnatural and difficult to reuse and thus created a waste meant for a landfill. And only humans could have the ability to normalize such an alien and perverse idea as trash.
For just a moment, imagine our world without trash. Granted, a world without trash might mean I won’t have a job protecting the environment in the future, but I think it’s a fair exchange to trade my future career for a world where the environment no longer needs to be protected from the danger of trash.
I took my vacation in Turkey this year. I brought my bicycle so I could ride the back roads through farmland, up into the ruins and down to the coastline. Traveling by bicycle gets me in touch with a country unlike any other sort of traveling. It integrates me into the sounds and smells of a place and gives me the freedom to stop at any moment to take in the sights.
Unfortunately, during my 620-mile through Turkey, some of the sights I took in involved massive amounts of trash.
I can’t say this surprised me as I see trash often while biking back countries. I’ve often thought about rigging a trash bucket to my bicycle so that I could carry one of those long claw-arm trash grabbers to attack litter during my rides. I could then count how much trash one cyclist could recover during work commutes. I bet the amount would be shocking, but I just can’t commit to turning my faved two-wheel ride into the greenest trash truck in the region.
In Turkey, I did a lot of camping, and I am a member of the “leave it better than you found it” team. But like Alicia pondered how to begin removing the massive amounts of debris in the Tijuana Watershed, I didn’t know where to start at many of my one-night camp stops. So much trash covered the remote natural spaces that it felt inconsequential to pick up the litter in my immediate area.
But I still did.
I can’t even fathom how the trash found its way there. Clearly, some polluters dumped piles of plastic water bottles without any care. But in other places, random fast food wrappers, plastic bags, torn pieces of paper and more covered grassy areas, waterways, trees, parks, fields and roadways like fall leaves scatter down country roads.
Just like we experience a “first flush” phenomenon here in San Diego, Turkey’s dry climate and empty river beds lead me to believe that the first rains of the season will wash all that unclaimed litter into the canyons and waterways that will all eventually empty into the Aegean Sea. And just like that, the country will again be “clean” as the large bodies of water will eat up the trash.
My travel buddy and I tried refusing plastic bags offered by the merchants. Best we could in our extremely broken Turkish, we tried to say “no bag please” and we’d try to suggest we already had a reusable bag by pointing to the ones on our shoulders. But they just didn’t understand us. Now, I get the language barrier, as I saw how many people giggled when I’d say “thank you” and “hello.” I get it–I need a lot more Turkish practice. However, I saw clear as day that the single-use plastic bag habit has Turkish citizens under its wing like Big Tobacco caught smokers. It also made me realize how well our efforts here have made an impact.
Though we haven’t yet achieved a plastic bag ban, we have gotten close. And though not everyone carries a reusable bag, they become more popular every day. And though many merchants still offer single-use plastic bags, many give rewards for refusing them and most understand the need to go without.
Our watershed analyst recently returned from India and mentioned that the country banned bags a while ago and fees are in place to punish violators. To her, she said it seemed strange that our progressive country hasn’t yet made the law when a developing country like India bagged them years ago. I’m looking forward to hearing her perspective, which we’ll post to the blog in a few weeks.
The Clean Beach Coalition prepared for last weekend’s Fourth of July madness by putting up 200 extra trash and recycling bins to manage the weekend’s waste as well as tried to get the word out to the community to encourage replacing plastic ware with reusables. Each member organization from the Clean Beach Coalition hosted a cleanup site afterwards as well to assess the trash situation and rid our beaches of the waste!
This “Morning After Mess” beach cleanup happened at 7 am yesterday morning, the fifth of July, to gather up all the discarded waste left over from four gorgeous summer days of care-free celebration. Coastkeeper hosted at Ocean Beach where the annual Fourth of July marshmallow fight had gone down bigger than ever before. This tradition has folks gather on the beach, parks, and streets of Ocean Beach and nail each other with delicious sweets. Apparently this year’s Mallow War was less than mellow as people were selling marshmallow guns and slingshots! We can’t wait for the Youtube videos.
It’s hard not to laugh at people pelting each other with fluffy sugar balls; especially since it originated innocently as a harmless battle between fun-loving neighbors. After our chuckle-fits, we are left to assess the environmental risks from beaches and streets thick with sugary melted goo. The 25 year old tradition lives on in OB with no real reason for the madness, simply for the fun of it! It seems like many people really love this annual fight, and would be sad to see it go. Unfortunately, as the folks who clean up the beach the next day, we see the marshmallows tempting wildlife and oozing into the fragile ocean.
We got out to the beach at 7 am, so the mallows had little time to melt in the rising sun before we got there, but there were literally MILLIONS of marshmallows. Our flipflops were caked with sticky mush and our trash bags sagged with melting sugary goop. One volunteer counted 526 marshmallows just in one hour. A Surfrider volunteer measured a 5 foot by 5 foot square of sand and collected 100 marshmallows on the surface layer, and another 100 in the sand below! The precise environmental impact is unknown, but we can be sure that marshmallows are unhealthy for wildlife and sea life to be ingesting, especially after all the bacteria that is surely growing on these mallows!
Of the 88 volunteers who participated this morning, 6 admitted to being a part of the marshmallow fight the night before. One participant said it was the most fun he’s had in YEARS! Another volunteer said she brought her son to the marshmallow event the night before, but vowed to bring him to the cleanup to “show him the other side” of the fight.
We so appreciate those people who participated in Marshmallow show-down also taking responsibility for their contribution and coming back early in the morning to scrape together the sticky madness that resulted from the fight. The world needs more folks like you!
Now that sunny weather is paying us a visit every day, we find ourselves at the beach pretty often. But let’s not forget to care about our waters as much as we like to play in them. Start enjoying your summer responsibly!
- Start with sunscreen. By avoiding chemical-infused sunscreens on the market, you will do yourself and the ocean a favor. Green you ‘screen and get an eco-friendly brand that will protect your skin and won’t have harsh chemicals making their way into your body and our waters. I would recommend purchasing JASON or Aubrey organic brands for maximum protection and eco-friendliness.
- Organize your stuff. Before heading out, get your beach gear like towels and toys organized so you won’t lose them. San Diego Coastkeeper volunteers find toy shovels and flip-flops when conducting our cleanups. Today it might be beach stuff, but once you lose it, it’s pollution.
- Reuse and recycle. If you like to pay a visit to a beach with some beverages or food, don’t forget to bring it in reusable containers. Forget about that Styrofoam cooler and get reusable one that will last you for years to come. In the long-run, it’s a money-saver. Plus, it will stay “eco-cool” for life. Don’t forget to make sure you recycle your plastic bottles and cans, if you have them.
- Have a trash bag on hand. To avoid multiple runs to the nearest trash can on the beach, bring a brown bag for your convenience. Remember, you might unintentionally lose small items like used napkins, so be on the lookout.
- Check beach status. You need to know if your San Diego beach is safe to be at. Coastkeeper makes it easy for you with our interactive beach status map. Updated two times a day, this tool will keep you updated on water conditions at your favorite destination.
- Is your beach clean?You might be a responsible beachgoer but not everyone is. Last year, Coastkeeper and our volunteers and partner organizations collected 635,000 pounds of trash from San Diego beaches and waterways. To keep your beach healthy, join in with other ocean lovers for several beach cleanup opportunities this summer including “Morning After Mess” at OB Pier, Encinitas Moonlight Beach, South Mission Beach, Tamarack Beach and Pacific Beach cleanups.
Living in beautiful San Diego, it is vital for us to prevent pollution in our primary all-year destination. It takes responsibility and consistency, but with cumulative effort we can protect our waters from unnecessary pollutants today and in the future.