How We Use Trash to Make a Difference

Written by Kristin Kuhn

San Diego Coastkeeper brings together volunteers to keep our beaches clean for everyone to enjoy. But that’s only the beginning.  

Up to 80 percent of trash found in the ocean originated on land. That means it wasn’t dumped into the ocean intentionally, but ended up in the water after being improperly disposed of on land. Sadly, San Diego’s marine life is in danger of ingesting or becoming entangled in marine debris. To make a lasting impact on the health of our ocean and marine life, we must work to keep trash on land from becoming marine debris in the first place.

That’s why San Diego Coastkeeper volunteers not only collect trash from beaches, they fill out a debris data card to record each piece of trash they find. We use this data from all our beach cleanups to analyze the state of San Diego beaches every year. Our cleanups are so much more than beach beautification activities – they are a way to prevent marine debris and participate in an ongoing study about the origins, quantities, and types of trash on our beaches.

San Diego Coastkeeper provides three ways to get involved with beach cleanups to combat marine debris in our region. First, we’ve teamed up with Surfrider Foundation San Diego Chapter to host twice-a-month public beach cleanups across San Diego County. We bring the supplies and anyone is welcome to join us for a two-hour cleanup. Second, our Sponsored Cleanup Program allows companies and organizations to provide a private cleanup event for their employees as both a team building activity and a way of enhancing their corporate stewardship. Finally, we encourage people to borrow our cleanup supplies when we are not using them through our Beach Cleanup in a Box program. We love empowering San Diegans to be good stewards of their coastal environment whenever they can, regardless of our cleanup schedule.

All these beach cleanups combined have led to the removal of over 72,325 pounds of trash from our beaches and waterways since 2007. In 2015, cigarettes and cigarette butts were once again the most prevalent type of debris found at our beach cleanups. Littered butts continue to be a major concern for the health of San Diego County beaches. The problem with cigarette butts is that they are non-biodegradable and leach toxins into the water, poisoning marine life. They also move with ease through the City’s stormwater system, meaning a cigarette butt dropped elsewhere can easily end up at the beach. Click here to read more about what we’ve learned from the latest beach cleanup data.

Published in Marine Debris

Educators Come Together to Discuss Science Curricula, Including Project Swell

San Diego Coastkeeper recently had the exciting opportunity to take part in the San Diego Science Educators Association conference. The conference serves as an opportunity for educators of all grade levels to explore new standards, gauge the impact these standards might have on their curricula,Jocelyn at SDSEA and learn tools to help bridge the gap between outdated and newly approved methodologies.

Because the California Department of Education recently adopted the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) model, many science educators intimated that they were very anxious to discover the impact of these new standards on their lesson plans.  More than 500 educators came together to share ideas and collaborate on the goal of motivating and encouraging a love of science in their students.

Coastkeeper’s own Sandra Lebron hosted a 50 minute session entitled “Project SWELL’s Environmental Education Curriculum”, where she spotlighted techniques that both spark the scientist in students and improve their speaking, reading, writing, and math skills. She emphasized that students of all ages can be inspired to make changes when they recognize the environmental implications of human activities on our waterways. In providing young people this lesson, she suggested, we can empower and embolden a new community to protect San Diego’s waterways.

Project SWELL also had an opportunity to host a booth where we were happy to hear from many fans of the Project SWELL curriculum and have the chance to introduce the program to some who had not discovered it. In addition to workshops, there were also several other  science-related area businesses and organizations hosting booths, they included the Wild Animal Park, CPO Science, the Living Coast Discovery Center, and Lockheed Martin.

It was very interesting to see the wide array of techniques already available to assist educators in the shift to the Next Generation Science Standards; they ranged low tech solutions like simple paper and water, to the more high tech like tablet and other electronic tools.  If the energy in the conference was any indication, a lot of San Diego students will be buzzing about science soon. That could spell good things for fishable, swimmable, drinkable waters in San Diego!

What’s A Little Rain When You Have A Mystery to Solve?

Despite the stormy Friday morning weather, my water quality partner and I were excited to get to the bottom of a still unsolved mystery—the sources of urban runoff. Because rain is actually Day In The Life of a Water Monitorhelpful in solving this mystery (due to the fact that you can often follow runoff back to the source), we welcomed the unusually intense weather.

When we arrived, the group divided the test area into mini-watersheds and we were assigned to collect water samples along the south bound of Chollas Creek. While the weather was helpful for data, it presented its own challenges.  The collection efforts were marked by several strong gusts that pushed and pulled at me, at times nearly causing me to almost lose my balance. At another point I couldn’t see where I was going because my hair was flying in every direction, enveloping my entire face.

With dogged determination, we set out to get all the water samples we needed. Powering through the chaotic weather, climbing fences and walking through a windy swirl of muddy hills, steep pathways and graffiti-ed bridge underpasses, we were going to get this done!

Beside the waterway the evidence of some of the potential perpetrators of the pollution lay taunting us. Spray paint bottles were scattered lifelessly, as were many plastic cups and paper plates. What really captured my attention was a toilet seat cover lodged mid-creek. I still wonder how that ended up there—lots of explanations exist, but, in the end, there is no valid justification. It is amazing what discoveries can be found along the creek.

More challenges to our collection efforts continued to impact our efforts—it was very challenging to keep our paperwork dry! We had other difficulties when the readings on our instrument took longer than expected due to the many particles in the water.  An eyeball analysis of the samples we collected made it clear that the water was a far cry from clean and crystal clear.

While the rain and everything its presence brought into Chollas Creek  damped (pun intended) our efforts, this Southern Californian was happy to see at least a little of the much-needed rain we have craved for so long.

This whole experience was a wonderful adventure.  Despite my thorough soaking and muddy boots, I felt accomplished. Accomplished enough to say that I will certainly do it again!

Are you interested in learning more about what happens to those samples and how they help us learn actionable information? Check out this blog post. Want to have your own happy adventure? Check out our volunteer opportunities.

Published in Urban Runoff

San Diego Coastkeeper: Epic Volunteers Clean the Beach

Recently, LUSH volunteers teamed up with San Diego Coastkeeper to help clean a local beach. In just 2 hours, they collected over 2500 pieces of plastic, more than 800 cigarette butts, and over 600 pieces of Styrofoam—totaling almost 27 lbs of trash!

Twice-a-month, Coastkeeper, and our partners Surfrider Foundation, San Diego Chapter, hosts a local beach cleanup like this one. If you love your beach and like it clean, bring your friends and family to volunteer at our next event! All of our upcoming beach cleanups can easily be found by visiting this link: http://localhost/sdcoastkeeper

Published in Videos

Packing Up and Shipping Out

Alicia_GlasscoToday is my last day at San Diego Coastkeeper. I am packing up my desk and re-organizing my files, taking down my Coastal Cleanup Day posters and my world map with the subtropical gyres and my travel spots outlined. It’s a bittersweet departure for an exciting career move to the Port of San Diego’s Environment and Land Use Department. Embracing this great opportunity to expand my skill set surely does not make it any easier to leave this engaging organization (which, by the way, is hiring).

I am eternally grateful for every inspiring experience and interaction with my coworkers, the board, donors, sponsors and dedicated volunteers of Coastkeeper over the last three years. San Diego has a close-knit environmental community and it’s been an honor to grow as a professional within this network of knowledgeable, action-oriented individuals.  I am blessed to be able to continue my work in this field and to maintain a role in the finest city – especially now that I will be able to join the ranks of the volunteers!

One of the most important things I’ve learned here is how difficult, yet important, it is to inspire individuals to write or call their elected officials and agencies about a topic they care about. Get involved and speak your mind. And support organizations like Coastkeeper who are in the trenches every day by donating or volunteering – the ocean will thank you for it.  See you on the beach (or bay).

Twitter: @aliciaglassco

Gale Filter Gets Crabby and other Ocean Gala Highlights


Photo Credit Jackie Loza

I’m not sure if “brought them to their feet,” “brought them to their knees” or “brought them to tears (of laughter)” more aptly describes executive director Gale Filter’s  performance at San Diego Coastkeeper’s 15th Annual Ocean Gala. One thing is for sure: his appearance in a bright red king crab costume, proclaiming the plight of San Diego Bay and our region’s waterways, signaled a new era for water quality enforcement in San Diego.

The fundraiser and auction raised more than $110,000 to ensure Coastkeeper can empower our community to make fishable, swimmable and drinkable water throughout San Diego County a reality. After the past three plus months when I focused on the logistics of the event (which volunteers can help, who requested a vegetarian meal, how in the world will we fit a 10-foot decoration in a 10’1’’ high room), I felt sincere satisfaction and gratitude to see individuals and companies in San Diego rise to the challenge of contributing the funds we so urgently need to continue fighting for good decisions about our waterways. That and hearing Gale refer to his wife as “the crab cake of his life” made for some memorable moments.


Photo Credit Jackie Loza

We honored City Councilmember David Alvarez and Pacifica Companies CEO Ashok Israni as the 2011 Coastal Champions. Like so many others in our community, these two gentlemen embody what a diverse set of stakeholders can do together. It’s incredibly fitting that Councilmember Alvarez’s district and some of Pacifica Companies’ projects sit on the shore of San Diego Bay, where Coastkeeper’s attention turned immediately upon closing the Gala doors: to the final hearing about toxic sediment removal from San Diego Bay. This crowning moment in a 20 year battle exemplifies why we need to continue to raise funds for advocacy in San Diego. And why every person at the Ocean Gala made a difference on Saturday night.

Speaking of champions, I’d like to hand out a few awards of my own.

  • Our volunteers, who worked so very, very hard and are the foundation upon which we build our momentum and impact
  • IKEA San Diego whose centerpiece donation raised $1,700
  • Schmidt Design Group landscape architects whose water lite display spread the message about water-wise gardens in a unique and beautiful new way
  • David Welborn, our board president, whose ability to rise to the occasion, including a stately introduction of a human-sized crab, astounds me
  • The Barnwell Shift, whose music accompanied us throughout the evening: Oceanside locals, vehement supporters of San Diego Coastkeeper and really great guys
  • Kona Brewing Co.,  St. Petersburg Vodka and OneHOPE Wine, each of which donated their beverages to help us keep costs down and host our guests in style

It’s my job to make sure that Coastkeeper has the resources we need to speak for San Diego County waterways and the people in our community who value clean water. When an evening like the Ocean Gala comes together and I see the multitude of generous individuals who say, YES, I will help, I know that we stand together. From the bottom of my heart and on behalf of everyone at San Diego Coastkeeper, thank you.

Miss the chance to raise your paddle at the Ocean Gala? You can still donate and have your contribution marked a part of this tremendously successful event.  

Ocean Gala: Short Photo Recap

Many thanks to our 300 registered guests and dozens of Ocean Gala sponsors who helped us raise $100,000 this weekend. And congratulations to this year’s Coastal Champions Ashok Israni, CEO of Pacifica Companies, and David Alvarez, San Diego City Councilmember. Leaders like you give us hope that we will have fishable, swimmable and drinkable waters in San Diego!

And big kudos to all of our volunteers who helped make the event a success.

We’ll post more photos soon, but for now, here’s a short photo recap of the evening thanks to our volunteer photographer Jackie Loza.


Forget June Gloom: It’s Balloon Gloom at La Jolla Shores Cleanups

This is the sixth of a 10-part blog series examining the nature of ASBS, the threats they face and the actions we can take to protect these biological hotspots for future San Diegans.

Last Saturday, San Diego Coastkeeper joined forces with our friends at Surf Diva and 25 volunteers to cleanup La Jolla Shores. Surf_Diva_Coastkeeper_La_Jolla_shores_cleanupStaging on the street and not the beach helped volunteers focus on the gutters, parking lots, sidewalks, and bus stops heavy with foot traffic and litter. The volunteers collected 30 pounds of trash, counting top items such as cigarette butts, food wrappers, and plastic foam pieces.

Over the past four years, San Diego Coastkeeper has facilitated over 20 cleanups around La Jolla Shores to help reduce marine debris entering the water. Considering the importance of pollution prevention in Areas of Special Biological Significance (ASBS), our cleanup work is valuable in highlighting common pollutants (litter) and engaging community members in helping keep La Jolla clean. We do this by asking volunteers to work in teams and complete data cards while they collect trash – and our cleanup data tells an interesting story. Here are some highlights:

balloons_marine_debris1. Balloon Gloom: Volunteers collected more than 800 balloons and strings from the La Jolla shores area since 2007. This value is many times higher than most other area beaches. Some of those washed up tangled with drifting kelp at the high tide line, and some were leftover or released from birthday parties and events at Kellogg Park.

2. Volunteerism has steadily dropped at La Jolla Shores cleanups over the past 4 years. Our 2007 cleanup boasted 283 volunteers, and last year’s event hosted only 59 people dedicated to cleaning up the area. Many volunteers worry about parking and transport, while others think the area is so clean that it doesn’t need the help (it does!).

3. La Jolla Shores is one of the “cleanest” beaches in San Diego County, based on the pounds of trash collected per volunteer. The average amount since 2007 is below a value of 1 pound per volunteer, which places it high amongst the ranks of other clean beaches such as Torrey Pines and Del Mar.


4. Single-use & plastic products dominate La Jolla Shores’ top ten. Coastkeeper and friends have been fighting hard to stop pollution from single-use plastics by helping the public switch to sustainable alternatives, such as reusable water bottles, bags, and Tupperware®. And even though smoking is banned on the beach, we still count a lot of cigarette butts right next to the beach – between 1200 and 2000 per cleanup each year.

After the cleanup, I met some friends for a beautiful SCUBA dive inside the marine reserve at La Jolla Cove. I tried not to get upset by the two abandoned lobster traps I saw (one with a big sheep crab traped inside), and instead focused on the beauty and peacefulness under the kelp forest. We saw two giant sea bass, a 4ft shovel nose guitarfish, and a stunning new-to-me nudibranch called Hopkins Rose, and it was a day well spent in our ASBS.


Published in Marine Debris

Surf & Turf Running Event: Help Protect the Ocean

Let’s face the facts, sometimes it’s hard to get motivated for a gym sesh. But here in sunny San Diego we really don’t have an excuse to be inactive. Our county offers so many fun and relaxing outdoor activities that we can do all year long. So now that it’s officially summer, it’s time to get moving so you can squeeze into that tiny bikini! Hooray!

Sport Psychology and Wellness Counselor Erin Bartelma of BE Balanced Studio created a way for us San Diegans to get fit and healthy together while enjoying the beautiful backdrop of our outdoor environment. Three years ago Erin celebrated her birthday by inviting family and friends to join her for the “Surf & Turf,” which involved a run on Torrey Pines State Beach followed by surfing in Del Mar.

Over the past three years, Erin expanded her vision and brought on additional Surf & Turf team members Lisa Bercik, Sarah Alexander and Shari Baurle to help the event reach a wider audience and positively impact our environment. The team wanted Surf & Turf to enable people interested in healthy lifestyles to come together and promote not only personal wellness but also support efforts to create a healthier environment. San Diego Coastkeeper’s staff is comprised of scientists, lawyers and environmental experts who are also surfers, snorkelers, runners and bikers dedicated to protecting our coastal environment–making them the perfect organization to benefit from the event’s first grassroots fundraising efforts.

The Third Annual Surf & Turf is on Saturday, June 25, 8:30 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at Cardiff Reef, and includes a 5K run/walk, beachside yoga with Lauren Duke of Green Flash Yoga, recreational surfing and beachside games with small prizes for the 5K run/walk. Participants are welcome to participate in one or all of the day’s activities. Registration is free but participants are encouraged to buy a Surf & Turf t-shirt for $20 (designed by artists Ash Francomb and Kris Boline of the Green Flash Gallery in Cardiff) with all proceeds going to San Diego Coastkeeper.

Come Surf & Turf & help save the environment with us!

Beach Cleanups Exposed: Beyond the Beach

As mentioned in yesterday’s blog post about the Ocean Conservancy’s 25-year report, the data extracted from beach cleanups can influence political, industrial and social change.  Take a long walk on this beach with me…


Cigarette butts have long since been the number one item found by Coastkeeper on San Diego’s beaches.  This is the same the world over, and has held its number one spot for the past 25 years.  Because of this statistic, garnished from our data collection, this hard evidence was used to support a smoking ban on our beaches and parks which passed in 2006.  Our cleanup data allows us to identify problems, track their the source, design solutions and take action by advocating for the solution.  

So, what are the sources?  Nine out of the top ten items of the past 25 years were disposable consumer items.  These items clearly do not belong in the environment.  They are threats to local and global eco-systems as they entangle wildlife, infiltrate the food chain and photodegrade into microplastics that can never be cleaned up.  We try to eliminate the source of these items, but we as consumers create the demand for them.  Fortunately, they are not a necessity.  We can easily bring our own bag, bottle or to-go ware; it is simply that we are so comfortable with the convenience of these disposable plastics, we can’t be bothered to remember.  In order to help us along, we must influence the supply to lessen the demand, thus eliminating these one-time-use, wasteful items as an option.  Policy change in response to single-use plastic has been happening all over the globe to reduce the land waste and hazards to the ocean.  This is a solution to eliminate the “source” of marine debris.

Policy change:

  • As of 2008, it is illegal to give away single-use plastic bags in China—previously the TOP consumer of single-use plastic bags.
  • A 2002 bag levy in Ireland led to usage drop of 90%.
  • Washington, D.C., implemented a 5 cent bag fee and a saw usage drop significantly from 22.5 million bags in 2009 to 3 million bags in 2010.
  • Italy became the first country to outright BAN the single-use plastic bag on January 1, 2011.
  • San Francisco was the first U.S. city to ban the single-use plastic bag in 2007.
  • In 1990, Virginia volunteers picked up 30 pounds of balloons; by 1991 a law was passed to prohibit mass balloon releases.



Another way to track the source even further back is by working directly with the industries that manufacture these items.  Decreasing landfill space in Europe sparked a trendy tactic called Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR), designed to promote the integration of environmental costs associated with goods throughout their life cycles into the market price of the products.  Basically necessitating that the manufacturer covers the costs of recycling or proper disposal, and makes sure it happens.  

Innovative Industry changes we have seen:

  • Coca Cola created a 30% plant-based soda bottle in 2009.
  • Pepsi launched their 100% plant-based soda bottle in March.
  • Electrolux is making vacuum cleaners out of photo-degraded plastic bits from the Eastern Pacific Gyre.
  • Nike gave their 2010 World Cup soccer teams jerseys made from 100% recycled polyester.  They collected 13 million plastic bottles from Japanese and Taiwanese landfills, melted to produce yarn, converted to fabric for about 8 bottles per shirt.
  • Jack Johnson displaced 55,000 plastic water bottles on his 2010 US summer tour by providing water stations with filtered water.

Locally, businesses can get involved in being a part of the solution and data collection effort by sponsoring a beach cleanup through Coastkeeper.  In April, Earth Month, seven of our 11 cleanups are with local organizations or corporations (Pepsi, Peregrine Semiconductors, Cox Communications, Starwood Hotels & Resorts, Source 44, 31st Annual Symposium on Sea Turtle Biology and Conservation, as well as partnering on an event with Whole Foods.


All marine initiatives depend on residents who understand why the ocean needs to be protected and preserved in order to build the connection and motivation for how.  The Ocean Conservancy’s report is a wonderful resource to help inform communities and it is available to be shared. Coastkeeper makes cutting edge ocean and water-related information readily available both online as well as through our quarterly Signs of the Tide outreach events. Fortunately, because of our data from inland and coastal beach cleanups, coupled with the geographically broad data supplied by the International Coastal Cleanup Day, our approach to tackling marine debris has become much more sophisticated.  As long as the volunteers keep coming to help collect this essential data, we can continue protecting and preserving our waterways.

Published in Marine Debris