LEAPing ahead with Students & Mentors

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

LEAP grads 2013 smallToday’s final presentations by students who participated in the Leadership Environmental Action Program (LEAP) were impressive. Young leaders Lexi, Erica, Steven, Diego, Tristan and Belen presented to their parents, San Diego Coastkeeper’s Board President, our Community Advisory Council—which mentored these high school students over the past six months, and the staff that organized LEAP as a capstone event and celebration of their success. They brought to life their love of our water, awareness of the urgency of protecting it and knowledge of how to do that–passions and skills they will carry into their futures.

Lexi designed an environmental awareness week that she will teach at Solana Pacific school for 5th and 6th graders that will have the younger students take on recycling projects and commit to a pledge of sustainability. See her capstone presentation here.

Erica created a blog about environmental issues. She talked about meeting Todd Gloria and writing the Friendship Garden between the US and Mexico. CLICK THROUGH to her blog here

Steven wanted to help his community learn, as he did, about the effects of stormwater so he designed an informational brochure to share. His ultimate goal – like that of Coastkeeper – is to provide people with knowledge and motivate them to take ACTION. “Eye-opener….now I notice things around me that affect water quality” READ page 1 and page 2 his brochure here. See his capstone presentation here.

Diego organized a cleanup in the community of Logan. He discovered that the best way to get people to act is by tapping into his own network; and that being able to get in touch with others and motivate the to participate will increase his impact. LEAP “provided me with a lot of new opportunities and gave me motivation to keep doing things like this”. 

Tristan created an ocean awareness video for his peers and younger surfers that shows how trash and stormwater pollution gets to the ocean and affects the health of the water they spend time in. “I want to inspire younger surfers.”

Belen made an interactive presentation to her school clubs about water conservation and challenged her peers to talk about what water means to them and how they save it. 

The students received certificates of achievement and a reusable goody bag with a book from Coastkeeper, a reusable water bottle from the Rob Machado Foundation (local surfer and environmental educator) and kayaking certificates from Chula Vista Kayak (owned by Community Advisory Council member Harry). Birch Aquarium at Scripps, one of our favorite partners in the community, extended the learning experience by providing us a room and hosting the students and their families in the aquarium after our potluck lunch. We chatted about their hobbies, how much they enjoyed the trip to Border Field State Park and kayaking in Chula Vista with the Community Council members. And they talked about plans to become bio-engineers, attend Harvard and study in China. The future of our water and our community lies in the hands of these smart young people. They’re off to an excellent start.


Coastkeeper’s Environmental Internship Program Got Me a Job

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

I have the honor of working with dozens of interns every year, who come to San Diego Coastkeeper to learn about what we do and dig in to help us make the magic happen. I say it’s an honor because I enjoy watching these young folks learn as they realize the gamut of environmental careers available to them in San Diego and across the nation. Every so often, a former intern will share his/her story with us and remind me how important these internships are for Coastkeeper’s work and also our future workforce. This story below is from Aydin Muzaini, whose internship at Coastkeeper directly influenced his employer’s choice to hire him.

Hi Travis –

environmental internshipI wanted to thank you and Mallory again for inviting me to help at the lab for the last two years. I was picked to do similar work on a project here at University of Miami, called the Net Zero Dorm Project, and I am doing much of the same sampling and testing as in San Diego.

I started volunteering with the San Diego Coastkeeper in 2011 collecting, testing and logging in water samples at the San Dieguito lagoon. With the direction of San Dieguito River Park Rangers Natalie Borchardt and Dante Lee, we collected monthly water samples from two different locations at the lagoon, where we made notes of the overall conditions. Later in the year I began working in your lab, testing water samples collected from the many sites across the county that other volunteers brought in. This experience taught me a lot. I learned how to take water samples, work with chemicals and conduct tests for bacteria. I use this same knowledge today at my position working with the Net Zero Dorm Project at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. I was immediately offered a position to work on this project as a transfer student to UM solely because of my hands-on experience from working with you at the Coastkeeper lab. What I do now at the UM Net Zero Dorm Project is very similar to Coastkeeper. The general work involves retrieving water samples from a treated wastewater tank and an underground cistern on a daily basis. I then submit these samples to the lab team for microbio testing. The status of the overall project, the shifts in bacteria levels, and the efficiency of the system are discussed weekly at the project team meetings.

Best to everyone,
Aydin Muzaini

Best to you, too, Aydin. Thanks for all your help and congratulations on your job.



Coastkeeper Gets Dirty with Science Education and New Standards

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper


SWELL 19 cropLet’s get dirty!

Well, that’s what I did with 40 other informal environmental educators from San Diego who attended the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) workshop on November 22. This training provided clear and consistent, researched-based standards that engage students in science instruction that will prepare them to utilize critical thinking and creative problem-solving necessary to excel in the global society.

What? Well, that means we want our students to truly understand and appreciate environmental science through experiences, not just memorization.

Kim Bess from the San Diego County Office of Education helped us get hands-on with the new science standards that focus on helping students to be able to do science rather than memorize facts. The NGSS standards or performance expectations give us the opportunity, with programs like Project SWELL, to serve as a resource for teachers looking for curriculum that engage students in critical thinking, and learning scientific concepts by doing science.

The NGSS were just recently adopted by the State of California along with other six states, opening the door to use nature as the perfect case study for hands-on science.

Yahoo! That’s what we say. We love nature and its ability to teach us too much.

Twenty-six states and their broad-based teams worked together with a 41-member writing team and partners throughout the country to develop the standards. The framework comprises eight Scientific and Engineering Practices (asking questions, analyzing and interpreting data, etc.), seven Crosscutting Concepts (Cause and effect, Systems, and systems models, and others), and 44 Disciplinary Core Ideas focus on Physical Sciences, Life Sciences, Earth and Space Sciences, and Engineering, Technology & Applications of Science.

What I love about the NGSS is that students will learn by doing and they will be able to build on and revise their knowledge and abilities from K-12. Now everything that they wonder about in nature can be an experience to learn science.

Community Advisory Council

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper


Brent Alspach

brett_alspach_coastkeeperCommunity: Oceanside

Key Issues: I would like to make sure the public is educated about water supply and treatment issues: the need to conserve more; the benefits (and safety) of reuse and desalination; the true costs of water supplies weighed against the benefits. Ideally, I would like our local population to be educated enough to make good decisions apart from the rhetoric.

Favorite Part of the Community: The weather in January is hard to beat, but I also love the landscape stretching from the coast to large hills and “mountains” within 20 miles or so and then into true mountains within about 50 miles.  Pretty cool!  Fortunately, we haven’t developed it all into suburban sprawl yet.  Hopefully we can preserve open space while targeting focused, smart growth.  

Margarita Diaz

margarita_diaz_coastkeeperCommunity: Tijuana

Key Issues: Bi-national water issues and water quality

Favorite Part of the Community: My favorite part is that Tijuana is a coastal community.



Jenny Kressel

jenny_kressel_coastkeeprCommunity: Mission Hills

Key Issues: Clean beaches and waterways so people can safely enjoy swimming and playing at the beach as well as representing triathletes that train in the ocean and bay.

Favorite Part of the Community: I absolutely love living in Mission Hills because it’s a walkable community; I can save on gas and help the environment by walking to restaurants, grocery stores, parks from where I live!  

Taya Lazootin

taya_lazootin_coastkeeprCommunity: College Area (with roots in North County)

Key Issues: Anthropogenic impact on our waterways, both fresh water and marine. I am interested in looking at the effects of pollution on marine habitats and would like to devise plans to both minimize pollution levels from residences and stimulate awareness about them.

Favorite Part of the Community: I live near San Diego State University, and it’s great to live in such an active place. My favorite part of living in San Diego is that the weather allows me to experience all that San Diego has to offer anytime of the year. I can spend quality time in Balboa Park, see a play or musical, go to a great concert, eat foreign cuisine, walk around one of the museums, hike in Mission Trails, go to a baseball or football game and, of course, swim in the ocean at pretty much anytime of the year.

Harry Orgovan

harry_orgovan_coastkeeperCommunity: Chula Vista (born and raised)

Key Issues: Storm drain runoff, water monitoring, water salinity, water clarity and quality of water as a home for wildlife.

Favorite Part of the Community: Exploring the Wildlife Reserve and Refuge in my local community. Owning and operating a kayak rental and tour business on San Diego Bay brings me in close contact with the water on a daily basis. 

Allison Price

allison_price_coastkeeperCommunity: Mission Valley

Key Issues: Since I work in the healthcare field, safety and health issues are important. I feel confident to deal with anything that makes our water safer for swimming, drinking and fishing.

Favorite Part of the Community: That I live five minutes from everywhere!  Really.


Craig Sherman

craig_sherman_coastkeeperCommunity: Carmel Valley

Key Issues: Conservation and urban runoff

Favorite Part of the Community: The canyons, lagoons and mesas around Carmel Valleyare my favorite part of the community.



Jessica Toth

jessica_toth_coastkeeperCommunity: Cardiffby the Sea

Key Issues: Water scarcity and educating residents and business about the impact of water-use choices

Favorite Part of the Community: Walkable neighborhood: schools, restaurants, food shopping, post office, library and beach.


Hector Valtierra

hector_valtierra_coastkeeperCommunity: La Mesa and El Cajon

Key Issues: While seeing a steady increase in our population and geographic distribution of society throughout the county, I am interested in finding ways to sustainably manage our local waterways and reservoirs.

Favorite Part about the Community: Lake Murray, as well as nearby Cowles Mountain and Mission Trails Regional Park, are great places to bike and hike. I also enjoy biking along the Santee stretch of the San Diego River. La Mesa Village is a favorite for unique shops and restaurants.

 Alberto (Beto) Vasquez

beto_vasquez_coastkeeperCommunity: Encanto (Raised in Logan Heights)

Key Issues: My current key issue with respect to water would be the pricing of potable water and the importance of maintaining affordable rates for San Diegans.  In addition, the provision of safe and accessible recreational water areas for local residents has been of constant concern.

Favorite Part of the Community: My favorite part of living in my community has to be attributed to the people and the unique features found within.  Southeast San Diego is not only urban but rich with a vibrant culture that truly captures the convergence of yesterday’s, today’s and tomorrow’s generations.  Similarly, I like to think every community within San Diego has its distinct character.





The educational value of volunteering

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Before starting at Coastkeeper, I spent a few years as a teacher. From 3rd-12th grade, teaching science is frequently an uphill battle. Sadly, the majority of students in middle and high school simply don’t have any connection to science. Without any reason to care about science, it’s incredibly difficult for students to engage.

Hands-on learning became critical for my students. Turning science into something that they can see, do, touch, or even change made a remarkable impact on their subject comprehension.


San Diego Coastkeeper frequently works with teachers and students in an attempt to bring science to life. Some teachers encourage students to attend a beach cleanup or Water Quality Monitoring training to get them invested through service learning. A few weeks ago, I worked with a group from North County High Tech High during their intersession. Leading a class focused on ocean issues and topics, teachers brought their class to La Jolla Shores for a morning of service learning.

La Jolla Shores is special to our San Diego coastline. Set along an Area of Special Biological Significance and the Matlahuyal marine protected area (MPA), the water quality, marine life, and habitat are incredibly important to protect. Pressures from human activity, both on and offshore, can pose threats to these coastal resources. High Tech High students had the chance this week to do their part in protecting them, but also learn more about why they’re so important.

Along the coast, students worked in groups to collect marine debris and document activity within the MPA. Testing out the web-based app developed by UCSD, students recorded observations of human activity, helping Coastkeeper and other groups in San Diego identify trends in human use and potentially effectiveness of MPA regulations. While students learned about MPAs, they were able to take an active part in their assessment, contributing to science and policy that impacts us here in San Diego.

Volunteering  helped make our coastline a little cleaner, but let students see where runoff goes, actually count how many pollutants we’re producing and think about their impacts, while seeing an actual change in their environment. By making a positive impact in their community, science and environmental issues become a little more personal. For so many students, that connection is what drives their passion in science and I am thrilled to help them find it through service learning activities.

Another group set out on a “Pollution Patrol” of La Jolla Shores, sweeping nearly every street west of La Jolla Shores Drive and identifying potential pollution issues. Their biggest concern? Cigarette butts. In just an hour, students collected over 665 cigarette butts from the area, with most found in streets near stores. Students that morning were shocked by what they were finding in an area San Diegan’s value for its pristine beauty and ecological structure.

If you are interested in learning more about volunteer opportunities for students in San Diego, please contact volunteer@sdcoastkeeper.org for more information.

Harvest and Recycle: Rainwater and Graywater

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

We recycle lots of things— plastic bottles, aluminum cans, paper, styrofoam, etc. But did you know that you could also recycle water? Recycling water is possible and very beneficial to operating your home in a water-efficient manner. Here are two different and cost-effective ways to recycle water in your home:

One way you can recycle is by reusing graywater.  Graywater is the water from your bathrooms sinks, showers, tubs, and washing machines. Often times, it contains traces of dirt, food, hair, grease, and cleaning products. Although it appears “dirty,” graywater can be recycled from your home and applied to your landscape in a water-efficient manner. Because graywater contains anaerobic bacteria, it isn’t ideal for the lawn or vegetable gardens. However, graywater does work great when you spray or flood around plants such as fruit trees and tomatoes.                              

According to Brook Sarsons, founder and owner of H2OME, “55 percent of our water usage is for residential use, and of that, 60 to 65 percent is used on landscaping.” Typical fruit trees use up to 35 to 50 gallons a week, and with a laundry-to-landscape system that recycles graywater, you can save up to 17 gallons of water a day. Sarsons also states that establishing 365 laundry-to-landscape systems would save over two million gallons of water per year.

Let’s face it: maintaining a lawn can be expensive. A 500-sq ft lawn requires 50 inches of water per year: that’s over 13,000 gallons of water. Along with graywater, a second way to drastically cut your water usage is through harvesting rainwater. You can harvest rain off the roof, into a tank, or directly into the ground. Unlike graywater, rainwater is great for vegetable gardens. With rainwater harvesting, a 1000-ft roof can yield 600 gallons of water with just one inch of rain. Although San Diego typically receives about 10 inches of annual rain, with gutters, you could fetch over 300 gallons per one-inch of rainwater. With a large plastic tank, you can save this recycled rainwater and re-distribute it to your garden in a water-conservative way–saving energy, money, and most of all, water.

P.S. Be on the lookout for May’s Signs of the Tide event featuring rain barrels!

Project SWELL Teaching the Teachers

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Lana_1Last week, San Diego Coastkeeper and Think Blue San Diego hosted their second set of professional development workshop for the 2012-2013 academic year. During the two-day event over 20 elementary school teachers from San Diego Unified School District were trained to use  Project SWELL in their classrooms effectively.

Thanks to our three fantastic professional development instructors, countless students will be exposed to the hands-on lessons that center around the preservation and betterment of our local waters.

Project SWELL was developed through a ground-breaking partnership between San Diego CoastkeeperThink Blue (the City of San Diego) and the San Diego Unified School District. Project SWELL is a school-based science curriculum that teaches children about the PDimportance of the San Diego region’s waterways.  Project SWELL helps teachers empower students about water quality issues and helps them to understand how to improve  the condition of San Diego waterways.

Each SWELL unit of study (grades K-2 and 4- 6) consists of five or six 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.

More information about Project SWELL can be found on our website: www.projectswell.org.


2013 Water Conservation Film/ Poster Contest for Students

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

2013 Water Conservation Film Contest for High School Students

Who: The contest is open to all high school students and all college students in the cities of San Diego, Coronado and Imperial Beach.

What: Create a 30-second Public Service Announcement

When: Entries due April 10, 2013

: All contest entrants will be recognized, and the finalists’ films will be shown at a special “Red Carpet Premiere” at the IMAX Theater at the Rueben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park

The film contest creates an opportunity to engage students directly about the importance of using water wisely, allowing the creativity of the students to inspire the rest of our community to use water more efficiently.

la-jolla-tide-pools-sTheme: Storylines must use one of the following “how-to” messages:
How to “waste no water” by planting native or California-Friendly® plants.
How to “waste no water” by using a rain barrel.
How to show that “wasting no water” is important to San Diego’s economy.
How to create a sustainable world by “wasting no water.

Water Conservation Poster Contest for Students in Grades 1-6
Deadline: March 27.
Calling all students in grades 1-6! The City of San Diego Public Utilities Department is looking for the next Picasso. This year’s theme: tell us how you, your family, your school, or your team “wastes no water.” Fill in the blank: _____ wastes no water and draw a picture of how they use water wisely.

Water is one of our most precious resources and using it wisely is part of keeping San Diego sustainable. A certificate of participation will be given to every student who creates a poster. Prizes for the winners will be presented at a San Diego City Council presentation.
Recognition: Prizes will be awarded at a San Diego City Council presentation in May 2013. Winning posters will be featured in the 2014 Water Conservation Poster Calendar. Winning posters will also be on display throughout San Diego, including:
City Administration Building – Lobby: May 2013
San Diego Watercolor Society Gallery: June 2013
San Diego County Fair – Kids’ Best Art Exhibit: June 2013

Prizes: Gift cards will be given for each grade level for first place, second place, & third place. An overall winner for the Recycled Water Category will also win a gift card.


Students Discover the Impact of Marine Debris

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Every time I present at a school, I am always struck by how hungry students are for hands-on environmental education. Revently, I had the pleasure of meeting with over 200 students from Linda Vista Elementary and Carson Elementary school.SDCK_1

The students were in the middle of an environmental curriculum and were looking for additional engagement around the topic of water quality and pollution control. To augment their learning, San Diego Coastkeeper came in to teach a hands-on lesson from Project SWELL,  school-based science curriculum that teaches children about the importance of the San Diego region’s waters.

Each lesson began with a simple question: What is marine debris and how does it affect the animals that live in marine environments? After spending a few minutes brainstorming ideas the students got an opportunity to model how entanglement can affect a sea animal.

Sarah Hargis, the Literacy Supervisor at Linda Vista Elementary had this to say about the presentation:

“[This] presentation not only gave real insight to our students’ questions, but also gave them hands-on activities that simulated real situations that occur in the environment due to human negligence. We wouldn’t have been able to have a successful environmentalism unit without Ms. Gipson’s presentation. We look forward to having her visit again and continue being part of our effort to educate students on the environment.”SDCK_2

Thanks Sarah! I look forward to working with your students again.

Interested in learning more about Project SWELL? Visit us online at www.projectswell.org


San Diego Coastkeeper at Millennial Tech Middle School

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

We spent a great evening at Millennial Tech Middle School’s Winter Science Festival in the Chollas View neighborhood of San Diego. San Diego Coastkeeper Core volunteer Caitlin, San Diego Coastkeeper’s education coordinator Nia, and I were on-hand to provide brief 25-minute educational sessions on marine debris.

The ‘Marine Sea Animal Entanglement Exercise’ was shared with students and their parents. Eliciting answers to questions regarding how marine debris such as plastic bags, cigarette butts, oil, and other items end up in the ocean and have their effect on sea life from students was fun and students always provided many examples of how this happens. Students know remarkably well the effects of pollution on their environment and how it can affect marine life as they explain it to everyone participating in the exercise.MTM_2

The exercise has students (and parents) pinch their fingers together like a dolphin beak or rostrum, pick up beans scattered on their table (representing fish), and placing them in a container for a 30 second time span. Each student then counts how many fish she or he caught and scores are tallied. Then a rubber band (representing a plastic bag entangled on the beak) is placed over the fingers and students again try to catch fish for 30 seconds. Scores are tallied and students can see the effects that this has on animals trying to survive in the wild.

One of the more interesting discoveries by most parents doing this exercise is that San Diego sewage and stormwater drainage are really two separate entities, that is, stormwater does drain directly into the ocean taking all the trash that accumulates on streets and watersheds with it directly. Educating parents and their young students in outreach activities like this is another step to moving towards San Diego Coastkeeper’s goal of having swimmable, fishable and drinkable water for everyone.

Millennial Tech Middle School is a magnet school with a focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Post written by Hector Valtierra. Hector is a member of San Diego Coastkeeper’s Community Advisory Council.