“I Would Vacuum The World!”

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Project SWELL Hands-On Lesson

Without question, my favorite task as part of the education team at San Diego Coastkeeper is teaching lessons for ProjectSWELL. Project SWELL (Stewardship: Water Education for Lifelong Leadership), a school-based science curriculum, teaches K-6 students about the importance of the San Diego region’s waterways. Usually, Project SWELL offers free SWELL kits, curriculum and professional trainings for educators. But this year, the Stiefel Behner Charitable Fund has made it possible to give one hands-on lesson at every school in the San Diego Unified School District. 

I go on solo missions to second grade classrooms with the goal of educating and inspiring our future leaders to care about water quality. In class, we create a model that shows how water carries sediment down an incline. After experimenting with water and earth materials, we add pollution. We put plastic, paper and aluminum on the slope and watch rain move the pollution downstream and straight into the ocean.

When I walk around with green and red food coloring to simulate pet waste and car oil, there is always an awesome simultaneous “ewwww!” I’m excited to watch the class engaged with water, pollution and solutions. The kids are stoked, the lesson is important, and the teachers are all helpful and enthusiastic.

Hearing children’s solutions to pollution is refreshing and exciting. A second grader from Miramar Ranch Elementary had the best solution I’ve heard so far. “I would vacuum the world!” How awesome is that?

To learn more about Project SWELL, visit the Project SWELL website.


New Classroom Presentations Teach Students About Our Most Precious Resource

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

05.07-press-event-students-As this historic drought continues, it’s easy to see how dependent we are on water. Allowing students at a young age to explore the water in their communities creates a better understanding of how to preserve and protect this resource while gaining valuable science skills. 

That’s why in 2003, we partnered with San Diego Unified School District, and the City of San Diego’s Think Blue Outreach program to create Project SWELL (Stewardship: Water Education for Lifelong Leadership).  In Project SWELL, the impacts of humans on water are explored through a well-balanced, comprehensive, and hands-on water quality and pollution prevention course of study. Project SWELL helps teachers empower students to understand and improve the condition of San Diego waterways. 

Project SWELL is a state standards-based science curriculum that teaches children about the importance of the region’s waterways by providing teachers with training about the scientific content, information on how to conduct scientific investigations and in-class support including materials, in class teacher trainings and lesson plans. 

Through this partnership, San Diego Coastkeeper has created a hands-on program that offers training for teachers, makes it easy to engage students and meets new standards. Each Project SWELL unit of study (grades K, 1, 2, 4, 5, and 6) consists of 5 or 6 age appropriate, standards-based lessons that build student understanding of San Diego’s aquatic environments and emphasize the actions that students can take to improve them.

SDUSD K-6 teachers are you looking for an environmental education curriculum that helps your students realize the Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards? Our lessons can help your students develop critical thinking, find solutions to real-life problems using science, practice reading informational text, writing, and increase their science literacy.

And here’s what we offer for teachers:

Classroom visits free of cost. Students will do hands-on experiments, models and/or find solutions to real-life problems using science. Teachers if you want a SWELL expert to present in your staff meeting or classroom contact us today! Reservations for class visits must be submitted 2 weeks before your anticipated class visit.

SWELL Science Kits are offered through the district’s Instructional Media Center upon teacher request and include materials for 36 K-2 and 4-6 grade lessons.

Professional Development is offer twice a year for K-2nd and 4th-6th grade SDUSD teachers. Teachers receive 1.5 hrs. of professional development, SWELL kit, and time compensation. Please visit www.projectswell.org for more details and to download curriculum.

Contact us at (619) 758-7743 x125 or email projectswell@sdcoastkeeper.org. To learn more about Project SWELL visit the Project SWELL website.



Teaching Kids What Bugs Can Tell Us About Water Health

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Bio means life. Bioassesment means the study of life and living organisms–and we’re full force with our bioassessment program in San Diego County. Bioassesment helps us understand the health of a lake, river, stream or ocean by looking at the organisms that survive there. Scientists have used many different organisms to test water quality; including, mussels, fish, and our favorite, insects.


Insects represent the majority of living creatures. In fact, there are more than a million species of insects. And they are found in many different places because they can survive in a wide diversity of habitats. Insects have special body parts that help them to survive. They all have a segmented body including head, thorax and abdomen. Some can fly, some can swim, and some can fit between very small crevices. These are just some examples of the eccentricities that help these clever creatures survive. Some of them eat live plants and animals, while others prefer their food dead. Some like to decorate themselves to blend in or have an extra “cover” for protection.

Why are there so many insects? What can their presence or absence tell us about the health of a stream? These are questions that can be answered when we pay attention to these incredible creatures.

Why do we study the insects in our streams, creeks and rivers?

Some of the insects can live only in very high water quality, while others can live in fair or poor water quality. This means, the insects that you find tell you if the waters are fair, poor or high water quality.


How do we know if the presence of certain insects indicates good water quality? The insects are classified by their tolerance to certain water conditions. Insects with a low tolerance (0-3) are considered to be very sensitive to decreased water quality.
Insects with a high tolerance (6-10) are considered insensitive to decreased water quality. So if you can find bugs with low tolerance in your streams that’s very good news!

Who are the usual suspects of fair or poor quality?

  • Syrphidae “Hoverflies” – 10

Who are the bugs that like high water quality?

  • Chloroperlidae “Stoneflies” – 0-1
  • Leuctridae “rolled-winged stoneflies” – 0
  • Glossosomatidae “caddisflies” – 0-2
  • Odontoceridae “Mortarjoint casemakers” – 0

What is the educational value of bioassessments?


Students can use several field guides to identify the insects and other creatures in their waters and relate their presence to water quality. Studies can range from basic identification to taxonomy, to collecting and identifying bugs. All of these activities are fairly easy and will teach students to use a key.


Students can examine the insect’s mouth with a magnifying glass and infer to which functional feeding group the insect belongs. The students can then explore where the insect exists in the food web and what it needs to survive. For example, a shredder needs leaf material to fall into the stream and a grazer needs algae. Here is a helpful resource on functional feeding groups.  

Zonation (Where does it live?)

Use location to answer questions about water quality. For example, where in the stream do you find certain species and is this related to certain water conditions (low oxygen, low pH, high temperature…)? This could work for both project based-learning and science fair projects.

English Language Arts and Arts & Crafts

Students can create their own bugs and tell their stories. What are the special body parts or behaviour “adaptations” that help them survive?

Volunteer Oppotunities

Volunteer with scientist groups or participate in International Rock Flipping Day, on Sunday, September 9.

More Resources and a very big THANK YOU to the California Digital Reference Collection for the rights to use their photos in our blog.


Fertilizer: Go Native. Save the Planet.

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

High Tech High Blog Series: Blog 6 of 7

What comes to mind when you read the word “fertilizer?”  Lawns? Farms? Family garden projects? What about water pollution and dead zones?

It’s hard to believe a substance famous for helping plants flourish in one environment can destroy other environments only a few miles away in our lakes, rivers and ocean.

Fertilizers are made up of mostly nitrogen and phosphorus  which, when applied sparingly and responsibly, can create a healthy, strong plant. But when overuse and over watering cause these compounds to flow into other areas, they cause aquatic plants to grow out of control and overrun their delicate ecosystems. 

This is Where YOU Come In. 

native-plants water conservation fertilizerYes, YOU and everyone with a lawn or garden can help end fertilizer pollution.  It takes a lot of work to keep nonnative plants alive in Southern California, because those plants natively thrived in a much wetter, more fertile environment. Instead of breaking out the hose and fertilizer spreader, consider the many beautiful and delicate native plants that love the Southern California heat.



These plants love the San Diego climate as much as you do:

– Miniature Hollyhock                     – White Sage

– California Lilac                            – Wooly Blue Curls

– Manzanita                                   – Desert Mallow

– Baby Blue Eyes                           – Ian Bush

Lemonade Berry                          – Milkweed

 – Sugarbush                                  – Scarlet Bugler

And many more native plants

If you can’t bear to part with your beautiful garden, try a natural fertilizer like recycled coffee grounds (free from Starbucks!) before you heap on the chemicals.  Remember, there’s always a natural alternative. You just have to be willing to find it. 

To research and help prevent further pollution, a class of 50+ students from High Tech High school in Point Loma, California teamed up with San Diego Coastkeeper® to conduct the “Oceans Away Project,” a project designed to help inform the public of the consequences of their daily actions.



Infographic: Heavy Metal Pollution

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Heavy metal contamination can come from a variety of sources: the paint on boats, zinc in your tires, etc. Heavy metals contaminate the water and settle along the ocean floor where bottom feeders tend to feed. Though only small amounts of metal is consumed, when larger fish that are higher up in the food chain eat the bottom feeders, a higher concentration of the toxin is then present in their body. This is chain reaction is called biomagnification. Since humans are the top on the food chain, humans are also affected by biomagnification, making it a subtle yet dangerous problem.

Heavy Metals Infographic



Heavy Metal Pollution: Not So Natural Rainbows

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper
High Tech High Blog Series: Blog 5 of 7
 heavy-metals oil rainbow pollutant toxin street
While driving down the road on a rainy day have you ever noticed the rainbow that flows into the storm drains? Many times you will see cigarette butts, trash and other miscellaneous objects flowing down the road to the storm drains, which lead to the ocean. Many people who drive every day or who have a boat that they actively use, are unaware that there are metals on these vehicles that accumulate in the environment. 
Metals such as aluminum, copper, cadmium, zinc, accumulate on the roads, and are washed through storm drains into the ocean during each rain. We call these heavy metals. 
Metals in boat paint deteriorate and leach into the water, contaminating surrounding waters. The paint used on the hull of the boat contains copper in order to specifically kill off marine organisms. These metals can bring a great amount of toxicity to the ecosystem that they run into. 
In a survey designed by a junior class from High Tech High, over 60 percent of participants thought that they did not or were not aware that they contribute to heavy metal pollution simply by driving or using their boat. 
shipyard heavy-metal pollution toxic ocean 
While the everyday actions of humans are a large source of pollution, waterfront industries where boats are used can be major contributors to pollution. In 2012, the San Diego Bay Shipyards cleanup began as an attempt to tidy up the ocean area in the shipyards due to the amount of pollution that is in the water. Toxic heavy metals have accumulated at the floor of the bay, which can cause mutations and poison the fish that live there. The parties responsible for this are given five years total to cleanup the area. This was a huge step to cleaning up the bay, but more must be done in order to keep our local waters clean. One thing we can do as individuals is to drive less and make sure we properly dispose of all waste in order to help prevent ocean pollution.  
To research and help prevent further pollution, a class of 50+ students from High Tech High school in Point Loma, California teamed up with San Diego Coastkeeper® to conduct the “Oceans Away Project,” a project designed to help inform the public of the consequences of their daily actions.


Prescription Drugs: Helping You, But Not the Environment

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

High Tech High Blog Series: Blog 4 of 7

prescription-medications water pollution


How We Contribute to the Problem


We are the problem. 


The county outputs 175 million gallons of sewage every day through the Wastewater Treatment Plant on the end of Point Loma. The waste travels out a 4.5-mile tank and is dumped through a 12 ft. diameter pipe into deep ocean water. This is problematic because many believe the pollutants dumped along with this waste are harmful to the environment.


The amount of pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) introduced to our environment is a leading cause of concern. With the amount of individuals taking prescription and non-prescription drugs on the rise, scientists fear an increase in bacterial resistance.


Medicine Can Be Toxic?

Additionally, the increase in the use of birth control, which is among these medications that are not regulated and enters our sewage system at 90 percent effectiveness, is responsible for disrupting our endocrine hormones inducing things like breast cancer, endometriosis, birth defects, abnormal sexual development, lowered sperm counts. There have also been world-wide accounts of the feminization of male fish near sewage treatment plants.



These untreated PPCPs travel through our sewage, surface and ground water, eventually affecting our drinking water and working their way up the food chain through bio magnification.


Due to the population increase and a larger consumption of drugs per capita, PPCP use and therefore contamination is on the rise. Even low levels of medicines found in our waterways hurt fish and aquatic life. Especially around these “hot spots,” that is areas close to sewage runoff, researchers have observed negative changes in fish behavior and reproduction.


How We Can Help

Learn more about Proper Disposal of Medications and Pharmaceuticals. Also, help the issue by supporting clean and sustainable water through potable reuse projects


Supporting new legislation to change sewage treatment plant treatment processes to better remove PPCP is another great way to contribute to the cause. 

To research and help prevent further pollution, a class of 50+ students from High Tech High school in Point Loma, California teamed up with San Diego Coastkeeper® to conduct the “Oceans Away Project,” a project designed to help inform the public of the consequences of their daily actions.

Infographic: Sewage Pollution

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Sewage is a large environmental problem but not for the reasons that most people think. A big reason why sewage is a problem is because of the excess hormones released in human waste. Only a small percentage of medication is absorbed into the body while the rest is expelled and finds its way to the ocean in sewage. Although wastewater treatment plants are able to remove around half of the hormones, there are still many steps that we need to take to remove the problem completely.

Sewage Infographic







Plastics: A Prognosis on Plastic Pollution-We Have a Ways to Go San Diego

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper
High Tech High Blog Series: Blog 3 of 7

What are the sources of pollution?plastic-bottle-of-water-s

To understand the problem with plastic pollution, a group of students researched the common sources and effects of plastic pollution. As a result of their research, they found that 90 percent of the ocean’s trash is actually plastic. Research shows that 80 percent of the marine debris, including plastics, comes from land while 20 percent comes from boats. The most common sources of this pollution are disposable plastics like bags and bottles, and fishing gear that come from ships. 

What are the effects?

The students discovered that the problem with plastic pollution is that the plastics last forever-this means the plastic continues to pollute the environment at every stage of its existence. Because of this, the ecosystem of the ocean, animals, and people are affected negatively. Animals can accidentally ingest or get entangled in plastics, leading to fatal results, while the marine debris in the ocean can harm the aquatic vegetation or suffocate coral.

dsc 2788-sHow can it be fixed?

After finding out how plastic pollution can have negative impacts on the environment, the students moved on to figuring out how people today could fix the problem:

1. Find alternative to plastics, like reusable bags and water bottles

2. Throw away or recycle plastics and trash properly rather than litter

3. Participate in beach cleanups

                                                                                 4. Support single-use plastic bag bans

 What has been done so far?

 Beach cleanup data from Coastkeeper beach cleanups suggests that a lot of the trash that was picked up was plastic. Because plastic is non-biodegradable, it will only keep breaking down into microscopic pieces in the ocean, making it much harder to actually clean up all of the plastic in the ocean. Also, the borken down plastic begin to resemble plankton, a common food source for marine life. So by completing these beach cleanups every year, more of the plastic that ends up on the beach can be picked up before it ends up in the ocean to break down and further pollute the environment. 

To research and help prevent further pollution, a class of 50+ students from High Tech High school in Point Loma, California teamed up with San Diego Coastkeeper® to conduct the “Oceans Away Project,” a project designed to help inform the public of the consequences of their daily actions.


Infographic: Plastic Pollution

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Plastic, though it was seen as a great technological advancement, has shown the world and the environment it’s dark side. Plastic, which has been used in just about every field, from medicine, to toys, has taken a huge toll on our environment. It washes up on beaches, is ingested by animals, and disrupts ecosystems. But that isn’t all. Plastic has a bigger environmental impact than most think. We use oil to produce all the plastic that is used around the world making it so we are manufacturing our own demise

Plastic Infographic