Susan Cobb, one of San Diego Coastkeeper’s most dedicated Water Quality Monitors, spends her weekends collecting water samples from across San Diego for scientific analysis. Passionate volunteers like Susan are the reason we can catch sewage spills early and find and fix the sources of pollution making San Diego less fishable and swimmable. We sat down with Susan to find out why she loves water and what drives her to protect it.
Why do you volunteer as a Coastkeeper Water Quality Monitor?
I began volunteering when I was a teenager. My mom recycled everything (newspapers, cans, glass) and I spent a few hours every weekend at the local recycling center. When I moved to San Diego County many years later, I started volunteering everywhere I could. Finally, after helping with a few beach cleanups in North County I heard about San Diego Coastkeeper. When I read about their Water Quality Monitoring program and commitment to the waterways in San Diego, I knew I wanted to be involved. That was May of 2015 and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Besides the obvious fact that our environment is worth saving, when I joined San Diego Coastkeeper I met a room full of people that felt the same as I did. My first day as a Water Quality Monitor, I was paired up with Adrian and Steve Kwik. As we drove up the coast to the Los Penasquitos sites, I knew that I wanted to make a commitment to the Water Quality Monitoring program. Those two had been doing it for 8-9 years and I was so impressed with their attitude and longevity.
I love the outdoors. My family and I hike and camp as often as possible. We enjoy the beach and my husband’s hobby is ocean fishing. So, I consider this a perfect fit. I can spend about 5 hours once a month and know that I’m having a positive impact on this big beautiful rock we live on.
Why is it important to return every month?
I see quite a few others that make this a regular part of their schedules each month so I know that I’m not alone. For me, it’s important to come every month because I can. I put it on my calendar, and when other things come up, I work around the water quality monitoring schedule. I am proud to say that I’ve only missed a few since starting in May of 2015.
One thing I love about coming every month is the friendships I’m forming. All of the volunteers care about the environment, but also many are in education (teachers and students) or their jobs are directly related to the environment. Also, it’s not surprising that since I am here on a regular basis, I feel confident in my knowledge of the proper procedures; which I know is important. It’s important for team members to participate each month so we can help train those who are either new or only help occasionally. A strong base of volunteers is essential to the success of the water quality monitoring process to ensure consistency in the data collection itself; whether it be location or the procedure of collecting the data.
What should everyone in San Diego know about this program?
People in San Diego should know that local and state agencies don’t have the funding and/or man-power to monitor our water ways as they should. The data we collect and analyze is used to keep our local industries in check. Since we collect in compliance with scientific procedures (clean gloves, dirty gloves, double bagging, keeping samples on ice, etc) and the lab follows set procedures to ensure accuracy, the data can then be used to support environmental laws if and when the need arises.
Our waterways are the foundation of our life in Southern California. The diversity of our plants and animals cannot survive without a healthy foundation and they deserve protection. Human activity in the outdoors must also be protected. We all should have fishable, swimmable, and drinkable waters. We should be able to enjoy seeing clean water and the wildlife it supports. Our environment is worth saving for ourselves and for our future.
How do you feel about the health of San Diego’s inland waters?
The health of San Diego’s inland waters fluctuates based on numerous factors. Water quality is not solely based on how industries treat our water, it also depends on how the general public, regular people like us, act in our daily life. Runoff from homes and roads, lawn fertilizers, oil from driveways, miscellaneous trash, and more can all have a negative impact on our watersheds. We all can make a difference. What we do matters when it comes to the health of our precious watersheds.
What do you do outside of Coastkeeper?
I’m a middle school science teacher. I encourage my students to participate in beach clean ups and any other causes they find worthy. I volunteer with Coastkeeper because I want them to know the importance of our waterways, and the environment in general. Leading by example is important.
What we all do can, and does, make a difference to others. We impact the world around us whether we realize it or not. I’ve shared with them some of the news that I learn from reading San Diego Coastkeeper’s newsletter. When the new law regarding microbeads passed, we did a mini-unit on plastics and their negative impact on the environment. One of the students this year mentioned how she thought that microbeads were part of the problem and that they should not be allowed. I let her know that the law had been passed and they were being phased out; which made her happy to say the least.
Outside of work, I love to be outdoors. My husband, daughter and I take a yearly camping trip, most often to Sequoia National Park. We have also been to Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands, Mesa Verde, Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and others. Locally, we enjoy our local coastline, Anza Borrego and Palomar Mountain. I’ve also done summer traveling with some work friends to Yellowstone and Glacier National Park.
And perhaps — your favorite San Diego beer and why?
My favorite beer is called Headbasher IPA. It’s made by a Carlsbad Brewery by the name of Arcana. We belong to Arcana’s ‘Mug-Club’ and I can’t say enough positive things about it. The owner and staff are amazing people and the two dart boards, along with the variety of food trucks, just can’t be beat. They have a nice selection of brews and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. If you’re in North County and are thirsty for a great brew, stop into Arcana and tell them I sent you.
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.
We have laws in place to limit industrial pollution and ensure that our water can support all of its uses, from swimming and fishing to hosting endangered wildlife. But without enforcement, these regulations cannot keep our water healthy. That’s where San Diego Coastkeeper comes in.
Urban runoff is the single biggest threat to water quality in San Diego. During the dry season, pollutants build up on hard surfaces like roads and parking lots. When it rains, stormwater pushes the accumulated pollutants into our storm drains. In San Diego, like most of California, our storm drains generally do not connect to wastewater treatment plants, so everything flows untreated into our waters. Pollutants created by industries, like metals and oils, are especially serious because they can be toxic in very low concentrations.
The Clean Water Act is a federal law that lays out the legal requirement for protecting, maintaining and improving the health of our water bodies. It is our most powerful tool for making sure San Diego’s water is healthy because it mandates that all states identify creeks, rivers and shorelines that are severely impaired by pollution.
Unfortunately, state and local regulators often don’t review water quality reports or conduct monitoring to make sure that industries are meeting Clean Water Act standards. San Diego Coastkeeper steps up to make sure that industries are doing everything they can to reduce pollution to our rivers and beaches. We review water quality reports, but that’s only the first step.
San Diego’s local government agencies have limited resources and they monitor infrequently, providing only a snapshot of water quality. To solve this problem, San Diego Coastkeeper also conducts our own monitoring to ensure compliance of clean water rules. We collect and analyze water samples from nine out of 11 watersheds in San Diego County every month. To ensure that our data meets the highest quality standards possible, Coastkeeper follows a rigorous quality assurance and control plan and standard operating procedures that have been approved by our state regulatory agencies. Sounds like a big job, right? That’s why we train over 100 volunteers each year and rely on them to help.
When we find polluting facilities, we use the Clean Water Act to bring them into compliance through enforcement actions. Our goal is to force industry operators to install and use best management practices that will meaningfully reduce pollutants in our waterways.
Want to see what kind of report card your local watershed is getting? Click here to explore a map of the most recent data we have for locations from Otay to Carlsbad.
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.
We pride ourselves on our volunteers. Not only do they collect crucial information about our waters throughout San Diego County, but they are also poets, and they don’t even know it.
I took their comments from water monitoring data sheets and found myself with a beautiful poem that I’d like to share with you.
More trash than normal
Probably kids wading
Mountain lions sighted here last week
Our parking spot was on television
No sightings for us
Female mallard swimming in pond
A few pieces of trash
Willow seed pods floating in water
Carcass of coyote
(has been here for a while)
Inch of water flowing over walkway
Grass in stream
Thick brown-green algae on bottom of stream
Lots of brush was cleared out
Crawfish isn’t here today
Lots of sediment on bottom
Water clear but gross stuff on bottom
Craig has photos of fecal matter for your enjoyment
If you’ve ever helped out at a San Diego Coastkeeper or Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Chapter beach cleanup, you’ve likely been handed one of our data cards along with your bags, gloves and trash grabbers. While the data card is sometimes met with enthusiasm, there is equal parts confusion. The reaction is similar to students who are told they get to watch a movie in class but have to fill out a worksheet too.
Unlike your movie worksheet in 6th grade, the data sheet we hand you isn’t graded but it does get used long after your day at a beach cleanup. They get compiled in our annual marine debris report and help direct decisions and actions.
The data cards are used to track what debris we’re finding on our beaches throughout the year. Every part of the card you fill out helps us to improve our understanding of marine debris in San Diego. They allow us to help plan for future cleanups, make local recommendations, design education programs, and study the impacts of policy.
Filling out a data card for an hour or two or cleanup may not seem like a big deal, but by each one of our 4,308 volunteers in 2012 helping to correctly fill out their data cards, we are able to learn far more about marine debris that we could on our own.
Thanks to data cards, we know:
- 7,594 pounds of trash were removed in 2012. This means each volunteer removed roughly 1.72 pounds of trash. That’s over a pound more than in previous years!
- Ocean Beach, historically one of the dirtiest beaches, is now one of the cleanest, with less than 1 pound removed per volunteer.
- 32% of all items were plastic and 40% were cigarette butts. In fact, 20,000 more cigarette butts were found on beaches this year. Yikes!
- Over 53,000 debris items on our beaches are actually recyclable. Teaching our neighbors, family, and friends about what we can recycle could make a huge difference.
- A record low number of plastic bags were found, which means we’re making better choices as a community. However, we collected 7,500, and this is still too many plastic bags on our beaches.
Thanks to all of our wonderful volunteers who helped make this another successful year of beach cleanups and contributed to our data collection.
Want to be a part of our 2013 marine debris program? Come out to any one of our beach cleanups. San Diego Coastkeeper is also happy to arrange special cleanups through our Beach Cleanup in Box and Sponsored Cleanup Program. We’ll supply you with everything you need to make your beaches a little cleaner, including a data card.
Here at San Diego Coastkeeper, volunteer opportunities go a long way. It is no secret that San Diego Coastkeeper depends on our super star volunteers to help us achieve the organization’s goals and protect water quality in San Diego, but what can these opportunities do for YOU?
Our 2011 volunteer of the year Taya Lazootin was recently accepted into two prestigious graduate school programs, the first being the Rosentiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science in Miami Florida and the second is the Geography Department at San Diego State University. Choosing a path a bit closer to home, Taya will pursue a Master’s degree in Geography where she will study coral reef management while researching marine protected areas for Indo-Pacific reefs near developing island communities. Sounds AMAZING, right? This program is currently ranked number 7 in the country and leads to a joint PhD program at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Clearly, Taya is a rockstar!
You might be wondering, ‘How do I that?’ and you will be happy to know, San Diego Coastkeeper can help. Taya is not the first volunteer from our Water Quality Monitoring program and lab who went on to graduate school with relevant work experience under her wing. Lab intern Melissa Ta is writing her thesis using the research she did in our Water Quality Monitoring for her graduate school program at San Diego State University’s School of Public Health. She has a pretty cool blog of her own, too. Needless to say, our volunteers are intelligent, driven folks who followed their love of the environment straight to us, and San Diego Coastkeeper is proud to say we helped them achieve their goals.
Whether it is in the lab, office, legal clinic, marine conservation or public relations and social media realm that you are interested in gaining more experience, San Diego Coastkeeper can help. As much as we love our volunteers and the work they do, we are equally as interested in helping them in their pursuits, whether they be academic or personal enrichment. If you are interested in learning more about opportunities to help your future while protecting San Diego’s water resources, let us know by emailing volunteer@sdcoastkeeper for more information.
As Hillary Clinton famously noted in her 1996 book, “it takes a village.” Regardless of views on education reform, the message about the power of collaboration and the significance of a chorus of voices in any conversation rings true for me.
Today, San Diego Coastkeeper runs on the power of our own village, specifically the people, organizations and companies in America’s Finest City and beyond. In 2011, individual volunteers put over 25,000 hours of time into protecting our waterways. More than 20 businesses and community groups joined the collaborative Water Reliability Coalition to advocate for a safe, reliable, sustainable and cost-effective local water supply.
Our water quality monitoring and beach cleanups depend on those 25,000 hours that volunteers contribute. And we do our best to make it a positive experience. We commit to their safety and to the sustainability of our practices. That’s why when Magid Glove and Safety called us up to offer a donation of their product, we thanked them enthusiastically. Their donation of lab gloves and reusable cleanup gloves helps us meet our quality assurance protocol in the lab, “Bring Your Own” goals for sustainable practices at 2012 beach cleanups and provide comfort and safety for our volunteers.
This week, Coastkeeper staff will participate in the Regional Task Force for the Homeless “We All Count” homeless census. We are part of this village and we like to add our voices to the chorus… you might mistake our office for the Singing in the Rain clip from Glee, we’re so enthusiastic. Yesterday I worked with three different interns, one in high school, one in university and one a retiree. They all “sing” for clean water every week. What’s your song? Tell us about it in the comments and email us if you want to volunteer or have resources to donate. Thanks for being part of our village!
On my first day as an intern at San Diego Coastkeeper, I was given the honor to ride in the Coastkeeper boat. Along with seeing sealions and dolphins on a sunny San Diego day, I also learned what it means to be a volunteer boat captain. Coastkeeper’s main boat captain’s name is Chris, he was once a dive boat captain and has a 100-ton captain’s license (also called a Master’s license). He began volunteering at Coastkeeper through the outreach program because he wanted to learn how to become a “modern” boater. For example, he cleans the Coastkeeper boat using only a gallon of water. Whereas the non-modern ways to clean a boat include washing a boat with the chemical-based cleaners that get into the water, as well as using more water than necessary.
Chris takes the boat out at least once a week around San Diego Bay. He watches for commercial abandonment of polluting laws and makes sure big businesses use Best Practices and cause no harm to the bay and its wildlife. Sadly, San Diego Bay has a greater chance of having pollution because it is a working and military bay… and a tourist hot spot. But having San Diego Coastkeeper and captain Chris watching over the bay, makes sure the pollution doesn’t get over board.
Have you ever been standing on the beach, looking at the waves and thought, should I go in? Did it rain yesterday? How do I know if I will get sick or not if I go surfing or swimming today? If you answered, you are certainly not alone. The quality of water along our shores and in our creeks remains a significant concern for recreational users. Parts of our county, like beaches in south county, are notorious for having consistent closures.
That is why the annual South San Diego Water Quality Workshop: When is it safe to swim, surf? was developed. Tijuana River National Estuary Research Reserve, the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observatory System, WiLDCOAST, Surfrider San Diego and San Diego Coastkeeper invite you to come out and hear some of the details about how our local agencies monitor water quality at our beaches, how decisions are made to close beaches or post advisories and ways you can help monitor in the watersheds in South San Diego.
The workshop is free but registration is encouraged. The workshop will be happening at the TRNERR Visitor Center on Wednesday October 12 from 6 p.m. – 8 p.m. And because we know you want more than just good information, we will also provide some snacks and raffles! Come out, meet some new people, learn a few things, and share some yummy food. For more information check out the event web page.