Trash on the Water Fog in the Sky

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

clean-sweep1As a student attorney for San Diego Coastkeeper, my work naturally revolves around the organization’s core mission of ensuring drinkable, swimmable, and fishable waters. While water is almost always the central theme of my work, there is a difference between talking or writing about water and actually seeing, feeling, and breathing the ocean. So when the chance arose to go out on the Coastkeeper boat Monday morning, I couldn’t have been more excited!

I joined Captain Chris and my supervising attorney and Waterkeeper, Jill Witkowski, onboard the Clean Sweep. It was a warm, beautiful morning, and we set off from Kona Kai marina and headed out through San Diego Bay. As we passed by Harbor Island and rounded toward downtown, however, the beauty of the Bay was besmirched by an abundance of plastic bottle and styrofoam debris. Chris and Jill both commented that the amount of trash was unusual. But as we continued on toward Chula Vista, I couldn’t help noticing that the presence of trash did not let up.

Near a public pier and marina around National City, enough was enough and our mission turned from observation and presence on the water to trash cleanup. With Jill trash spotting, Captain Chris deftly maneuvered the Coastkeeper boat alongside debris, which I then plucked from the water. Our “harvest” included the following unsavory items: spray paint bottle, chemical mixing bottle, styrofoam packaging material, block of wood, and snack chip bags.

With the engine well at the back of the boat full of our booty, we cruised back to the marina, braving the reduced visibility and sudden drop in temperature of rapid onset fog. Back near downtown, the fog dissipated, and once more we came face to face with the problem of trash on the water. We collected a few more items, then made our way back to Kona Kai. On the ride in, I reflected on the fact that from a desk in an office or library water pollution can sometimes become an abstract concept. But putting my hand into the water to pull out trash? That made it real.

Now I encourage all you readers to get your hands in the water and pull some trash! It’s an important side of environmental stewardship, and something all us coastkeepers and friends of the environment should be involved in. On October 27, San Diego Coastkeeper will be hosting “Mission Possible: Clean the Bay Day with SeaWorld.” This event runs from 8am to 11am at Mission Bay, and food will provided by Rubio’s. So please bring your work gloves, sunscreen, boat if you have one, and give us a hand.  Hope to see you there!

Published in Marine Debris

Coastkeeper and UCSD tackle marine debris sources

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

ASBS_UCSD_Cleanup2Beach cleanups are one of our volunteers’ favorite programs. Who doesn’t love a morning on the beach with friends and family while helping to solve our global marine debris issue? So far this year, more than 1,000 Coastkeeper volunteers have removed over 2,736 pounds of trash from our coastline.

Impressive work, but still troubling.

Even with many responsible and concerned individuals keeping our beaches free of trash, there’s always more to remove. So where is it coming from? Were all 2,615 plastic bags collected this year intentionally or accidentally left at the beach? Most likely, no.

San Diego is home to 11 watersheds, areas in which all water from rain, creeks, rivers and streams drains into the same location. For San Diegans, that common location is the Pacific Ocean. Water moving through our watershed transports trash left on the ground and moved out of trash bins by wind or animals to the ocean.

To address some of our inland pollution sources, San Diego Coastkeeper and UCSD Environment, Health & Safety teamed  for a cleanup of the UCSD campus. Opting for a morning in a parking lot and inland canyons over a Southern California beach may not seem a fair trade, but what we found might convince you otherwise.

Twenty-one volunteers removed 31 pounds of trash. This included 4,201 cigarette butts. Just as a reference, our 150 volunteers at our Coastal Cleanup Day site at Tourmaline Beach found 130 pounds of trash. They collected 672 cigarette butts. Inland pollution needs a little more credit than we’ve been giving it.

Trash left behind at UCSD can travel all the way to La Jolla Shores. Here, trash entering the ocean is unsightly and directly impacts an Area of Special Biological Significance (ASBS) where pollutants are banned. This area is considered so ecologically important that the state gave this designation to 88 acres at Scripps and 450 acres at La Jolla.

Maintaining the health of our ASBS regions in San Diego is critical but difficult to manage. Impacted by actions not only along the coast, but throughout the watershed, each individual living here has a role in protecting them.

Given the success of our event with UCSD Environment, Health & Safety, Coastkeeper is looking forward to more programs focused on our inland areas to protect our water and coastline. In the meantime, do your part. Help protect the unique and fragile ecosystems we have in our backyard by remembering your actions have an impact, even far from the coast.

Published in Marine Debris

Volunteers continue to impress at Coastal Cleanup Day

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Looking at the forecast for this past weekend, my hopes for a large turnout on Coastal Cleanup Day were dwindling. By 10 a.m. on Saturday temperatures sailed past 90 degrees at the coast and inland areas were expecting to see the thermometer rise over 100. I expected most would see this as a great excuse to sit in front of the air conditioning.

I’m proud to say I was wrong.

On September 15, San Diego Coastkeeper was joined at Tourmaline Beach by 157 volunteers for our cleanup efforts as a part of the 28th Annual Coastal Cleanup Day. With generous support from Teva, volunteers at Tourmaline removed 130 pounds of trash from 4,000 feet of shoreline.


We were joined by moms and dads, families, friends, coworkers, and school groups. Volunteers came from across the county, with a few visitors from Arizona and beyond. Some were beach cleanup veterans, while others were there for their very first one. They gave up their Saturday morning, that extra hour or two of sleep, college football games, and air conditioning for a few hours making a positive impact on their community.

I couldn’t help but be exceptionally proud that so many San Diegans value our waters and environment enough to choose the latter.

I am so proud that I live in a place where over half of our volunteers brought their own reusable buckets, trash pickers and gloves. I’m proud they are teaching their kids and neighbors to do the same.

So many people came to me feeling they had not done enough. They had only picked up a few small items or their bag only weighed a pound or two. I couldn’t have been prouder of those small bags filled with bits of plastic and Styrofoam.

Most of our 1,766 items removed were small particles that possess a real threat to our marine life and water quality. If you hadn’t been, they’d still be sitting on the sand, waiting to be washed out into the ocean. In just three hours, 672 cigarettes, 92 straws, 99 plastic bags, and 49 plastic utensils were picked up. These items, though small and seemingly insignificant, make some of the biggest impacts when removed.

Knowing that so many individuals in San Diego are willing to do the right thing, to pass along the values of environmental stewardship to family and friends, protecting our swimmable, fishable, drinkable water doesn’t feel quite as daunting. In fact, it almost seems within reach.

But we can’t do it alone.

Published in Marine Debris

Take a Survey to Protect Del Mar Beaches

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

My name is Derek Kiy, and I am a junior at Canyon Crest Academy. When I began the conceptualization of an Eagle Scout project, I came to the conclusion that I wanted to make a legitimate impact on the community. I contacted San Diego Coastkeeper regarding a project proposal, and they jumped on the opportunity to guide me through the process. This project aims to rid Del Mar of Styrofoam takeout containers through the education of the community.

The first step on this odyssey is a survey that we, Coastkeeper and I, have worked on to gauge public opinion regarding Styrofoam takeout containers in Del Mar. The data regarding the prevalence, usage and preference of the containers will prove to be paramount. The analysis of the data we collect will allow us to craft the best educational tools, strategies and materials to help Del Mar residents learn about the negative environmental effects of polystyrene containers.

Through our education, we aim to inform the community of the huge and unnecessary cost of the plastic foam usage. Any and all participation in the survey is greatly appreciated so please, I implore you to spread this survey to your friends, family or anybody else you know.

By enabling the gathering of data, you become crusader for a cleaner and healthier Del Mar. This city’s identity is so closely tied to it pristine waters that it only makes sense to guard those waters so everyone who spends time in Del Mar may enjoy the coast it has become renowned for. Helping Del Mar’s coast is not a matter of moving mountains, but rather taking small steps and actions to make a huge difference.

Want to help with my efforts? Take this short survey about Styrofoam in San Diego. Thank you!

Published in Marine Debris

It’s the Little Things

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

mamAs I was driving to the Morning After Mess cleanup in Mission Beach, I was pleasantly surprised at the apparent lack of garbage left after Independence Day celebrations. After chatting briefly with our friends at I Love a Clean San Diego about how more than 150 volunteers were picking up trash in Mission Beach, I headed to Bonita Cove, where I celebrated with friends the day before.

At first glance, Bonita Cove looked clean—just a few small pieces of trash littered the ground. Small groups of volunteers were wandering around and only occasionally picking up a piece of trash apparently having trouble finding things to pick up. I bent down to pick up a cigarette butt and saw a wrapper from a juice box straw… and then a plastic tag used to close a bag of hotdog buns… and then three more cigarette butts and four more juice box straw wrappers.

As I refocused my attention, I noticed that Bonita Cove was littered everywhere with small pieces of plastic and cigarette butts. There were so many cigarette butts that in the next 10 minutes, I picked up 125 cigarette butts in a small segment of Bonita Cove.

Granted, picking up small pieces of litter like juice box straws and cigarette butts isn’t particularly sexy or exciting. But it’s important. Birds frequently inquest small pieces of plastic (a recent study from the Pacific Northwest documented that 93 percent of sea birds had bellyfuls of plastic, and one bird had a whopping 454 pieces of plastic in its gut), and local researchers have shown that just one cigarette butt, left in 1 liter of water, is toxic to fish. The little things matter.

In fact, if we really want a cleaner, healthier environment, we can’t (and shouldn’t) rely solely on the government or environmental groups to fix it for us. If each of us did the little things—like making sure to pick up all our trash when we picnic with our families, disposing of cigarette butts properly, picking up after our pets, making sure we don’t overwater our lawns and wash our cars at car washes that collect the soapy water—we could see dramatic improvements in our environment.

I challenge each of you to join me in doing the little things…because we all deserve a clean, healthy environment.

Published in Marine Debris

Why are Moonlight Beach Cleanups Cancelled?

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

moonlightStarting this September, the City of Encinitas will be making improvements to Moonlight Beach through June 2013. Due to anticipated construction, the Moonlight Beach parking lot and access areas will not be available for special events. This includes our beach cleanups which were scheduled for September 15, October 20 and November 17.

We anticipate resuming our cleanups at Moonlight after June 2013 when construction is scheduled to be completed.

Coastkeeper will still host a cleanup on September 15 at Tourmaline Beach as a part of Coastal Cleanup Day. Please register ahead of time if you’ll be attending.

Hope to see you out there!

Published in Marine Debris

Power cleaning with Power Scuba

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

On August 4, San Diego Coastkeeper and Power Scuba joined forces for an underwater and beach cleanup. We had walkers, kayakers, snorkelers and divers participate. The following account from diver Dan Prosperi and photos from his dive buddy Lida Chaipat tell the story.

When I started hearing rumors about an underwater cleanup in Mission Bay, I got pretty excited. On every dive I do, I try to pick up whatever litter I can. And this was an opportunity to have a whole bunch of folks hunt litter with me! So when the event was finally posted on the Power Scuba website, I was all over it!

On the morning of, I showed up a bit early, as usual, but canopies were already set up, snacks were already set out, etc. Raleigh Moody from Power Scuba and Megan Baehrens from Coastkeeper had done an amazing job of organizing this event. By the time everyone arrived, there were about 50 people there! Some planned to dive, some to snorkel, and some to walk the shoreline. But we were ALL there to make the ocean and surrounding environment a little bit cleaner!

Megan talked for a couple of minutes about water quality. It’s important, she said, to have as little water as possible flow from our lawns into the ocean. Inevitably, the fertilizer we use will flow into the storm drains, and largely end up in the ocean. There, it causes blooms of algae. Some of these algae can be directly harmful. But even more important, when all of those algae eventually dies and decomposes, that process takes oxygen out of the water, potentially suffocating the other animals in the ocean. This can lead to the “dead zones” that have started appearing along the US coasts.


Bill Powers (founder of Power Scuba) gave a pre-dive briefing, and we were off. My buddy Lida and I decided to swim a line between and under the boats that were moored in the bay. When we descended, we discovered that the water was about as murky as you’d expect in a bay that doesn’t get much tidal exchange. We could only see 1 to 5 feet in front of us. That made it a bit challenging to find litter! But we did manage to find a few pieces.

I was especially happy that we were able to remove several pieces of plastic from the ocean.



Dan is excited to find his first piece of trash in Mariner’s Basin!


As you know, plastic doesn’t ever really break down. But it does break into smaller and smaller pieces. And the bright colors encourage sea life to eat it. Of course, once it gets in their stomachs, it doesn’t supply any nutrition. And since it doesn’t break down, it can get stuck, potentially leaving the animal to starve to death. Well, those couple of pieces that we removed won’t have a chance to do that!



I don’t think that’s good for you, little guy…


As we swam along, looking for any trash we could find, I was impressed at how little there was! I guess San Diegans are pretty aware that the ocean they love will only stay that way if they keep trash out of it! Since there wasn’t much litter to see, I started seeing some cool critters on the bottom. There were the critters you’d expect on a sandy bottom, tube-dwelling anemones, sanddabs, and the occasional round sting ray.





In patches of eel grass, we found a kind of nudibranch we’ve never seen before. (Nudibranchs are colorful critters that look kinda like slugs.) In a few places where the grass was thicker, we found a few lobsters!





When I saw a beer can on the bottom, I was pretty excited. Another piece of trash to remove! But I knew enough to check it for anyone living inside. Sure enough, when I looked inside, an eyeball was looking back out at me! It was a little octopus, and I could see he was very happy with his little aluminum home. (Kind of like a retiree in an Airstream…)



After Lida took a few photos of us, I put the octopus and his little house safely back on the bottom.



When we surfaced from our dive, the safety kayakers quickly came to check on us. Another sign of some good organizing! We took our few finds and put them on the pile. The folks that had walked the shoreline looking for trash had had more success than we had when it came to volume of trash. All in all, the group removed over 75 pounds of trash from the water and surrounding beach!

Looking back on the event, there were a few things I took away:

1) There are a bunch of people out there that care about the ocean enough to spend a morning cleaning it up.

2) At least some of our bays are in surprisingly good shape, litter-wise.

3) Even a bay with lots of boats has a pretty good amount of critters living there.


Thanks to everyone who participated. I hope to see you at the next one!

–Dan Prosperi

Published in Marine Debris

Ditching the Plastic Foam in San Diego

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Imagine you have just finished an excellent meal at your favorite local restaurant. When you feel like you can’t fit any more into your stomach, the wait staff comes by to bring you a box for your leftovers. Of course, no one wants to waste food, however, you receive a box made from plastic foam, or more commonly referred to as Styrofoam  or polystyrene!

This conundrum still plagues many San Diego residents who want to be environmentally friendly, but their favorite restaurants are still using plastic foam to-go materials that are harmful to the environment.

Not to worry, San Diego Coastkeeper has been working to tackle this issue! Last week at our quarterly Signs of the Tide Event we took a closer look at the problem, and learned of some new ways to address this topic.

We had the City of San Diego recycling specialist, Donna Chralowicz, speak about why plastic foam is so bad, and what the city is doing to change it habits. Because of it’s lightweight properties, plastic foam transports easily if not disposed of properly, is non-degradable and breaks apart quickly, and is also not easily recyclable. The City has now decided to reduce its use of plastic foam at the operations level and at all city-sanctioned events. As of January 2012, plastic foam cannot be purchased by the city. Sounds like a great step in the right direction!

Local restaurant/business owner of Raglan Public House and Bareback Grill, Michael Zouroudis, spoke towards colleagues in the his industry about making the switch to zero styro. He strives to reach customers who appreciate the extra effort of making this switch. Obviously, the hardest part for restaurants to make that switch is investing more money into the to-go part of their business, which can be up to twice as expensive. Even though doing the “right thing” will mean more financial sacrifice, customers will appreciate it.

After San Diego Coastkeeper started logging trash picked up during beach clean-ups in 2007, it quickly became apparent that Styrofoam was all too common. Alicia Glassco with the San Diego Coastkeeper Marine Debris Program lobbied for a more proactive approach to eliminating polystyrene from our beaches. Local residents have to urge restaurants to make the switch away from polystyrene. Residents also need to rally for change for the entire jurisdiction. It’s easier for restaurants to make the switch if they are all forced to do so at the same time.

So, what can we do next time we are handed a box made from plastic foam after our dining experience? Check out these options:

  1. Re-usable is the best alternative to polystyrene (or any to-go materials). Bring your own box when you eat out!
  2. Talk/write/lobby to your local elected officials about a change
  3. Encourage your favorite restaurant to switch to an alternative to polystyrene. Check out for a list of good alternatives, facts about Styrofoam, and for educational cards to help promote change in local restaurants.
Published in Marine Debris

Plastic Bags: The Environment’s Deadly Predator

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper

Evan Lewis, an 11-year-old environmental activitist, is a member of Kids Eco Club of the National Youth Green Council.

Plastic bags. Oh, they are such a helpful resource in our society. But are they really worth it?

Are they really worth killing animals, overflowing our landfills and polluting our environment?

Every man, woman and child on our planet uses more than 100 bags a year. That may not seem like a lot, but we use over 3 trillion plastic bags every year worldwide: 3,000,000,000,000! That is 12 zeros. And only 1% are recycled.

Have you ever thought how much they can damage our environment? More than you may realize. Many people go through their daily lives not knowing or noticing their impact on the environment.

There are many reasons why plastic bags shouldn’t be used:

  • They kill over 100,000 marine animals each year, mainly the sea turtles. But they don’t kill only marine animals. They kill land animals, too, such as the thousands of birds that swallow them and die.
  • They take over 400 years to biodegrade! That  means your children’s children’s children will still have the burden of the same plastic bag you used today.
  • Did you know that the plastic bag was first used in 1957? If you do the math, not one plastic bag has ever completely biodegraded. Have you heard of all of the chemicals in plastic bags? As the bags start to break down, the chemicals enter the soil and our drinking water, which can be very harmful to all animals including humans.
  • Over 267 marine species are killed just from plastic debris in the ocean!
  • Have you heard of the North Pacific Gyre that is floating across the Pacific Ocean? This Patch is larger than the size of Texas. The funny thing is that this patch was not even there until plastic was invented. The patch is mainly made of plastic debris and trash that has washed out into the ocean. This plastic can be very harmful if a marine animal or a bird becomes entangled in it and drowns or swallows it. The plastic breaks down and releases toxins into the water.

All of these very startling facts have motivated me to take action and try to help change our damaging use of plastics. Now, how can one person make a difference? How did I take action on this important and harmful issue? My first step was to start small by having my family stop using plastic water bottles and plastic bags. Next, I started to make kids at my school aware of this issue with presentations in our classrooms and what they can do to help. Also, to help them with the cause, I gave them reusable recyclable bags to bring lunch in or to use at the store. I saw many different people at my school using them for lunch carriers or just to hold things.

Next,  I wrote an article called “The Problem With Plastic Bags”  for our school newspaper. Soon after, it got published in a magazine called San Diego Earth Times. Although I don’t know how many people read this, hopefully it is a lot. Think about it, San Diego has 1.37 million people. Since the average American uses 500 plastic bags, this area alone uses about 6.85 billion plastic bags every year! This has to stop so I started a petition to ban plastic bags in San Diego. Solana Beach and L.A have recently done it, so why can’t we join together and do the same?

Please help us in the act against this damaging threat to our environment by signing this petition and banning their use!

Published in Marine Debris

Need an Excuse to Hit the Beach?… Law Students Do!

Written by San Diego Coastkeeper


For us law school kids, free times to go play at the beach are few and far between. BUT, we will not pass up any “worthy” excuse to get to a beach. This was evidenced in the dozens of law students who showed up last Saturday (in the middle of midterms) to pick up trash at South Sunset Cliffs.

The event was organized by four California Western School of Law student organizations who realized that law students, who are not motivated by much indoors, might be motivated by an event far away from the library. SUCCESS! The cleanup was a chance to spend productive time outdoors—and not feel guilty about neglected homework—PLUS an opportunity to note the considerable amount of trash on the beach and reflect on what law students can do about this problem. Walking around together, we brainstormed ways to prevent trash on the beach, make sure more trash is picked up, and how we can use our legal knowledge and careers to further these goals. We not only left the beach in a better condition than when we arrived, but we gained ideas and motivation to make changes!

What to take from this? A beach cleanup is more than just picking up trash. It is the opportunity to become part of the solution to a serious problem.

Thankfully, Coastkeeper and Surfrider have many opportunities to hit the beach. Check out the events calendar to plan ahead. And if you can’t make it, organizing your own beach cleanup with Coastkeeper is easy, too.

Published in Marine Debris