A mantra has developed at San Diego Coastkeeper over the past few years: collecting data at beach and bay cleanups is almost as important as removing the trash from the environment. It’s become apparent that this litter and waste has major impacts on the ocean when it becomes marine debris, but we can’t communicate about the needs for source reduction or target cleanups to specific trash hotspots if we don’t have the number to back it up. That’s where our Annual Beach Cleanup Data Report comes in.
Through strong collaboration with the San Diego Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, Coastkeeper has made data collection at our joint beach cleanups a top priority since 2007. The information gained is important for directing our advocacy moves and target beaches, along with educating San Diegans about what types of trash are of greatest concern. We are also collecting baseline information for future accumulation, from general pollution issues to large scale natural events, like the predicted arrival of debris from the Japan Tsunami, and we note the most interesting items collected, such as the headless statue and dentures found in San Diego County at Coastal Cleanup Day.
And 2011 was an interesting year for volunteer coordinators, as volunteerism generally decreases when unemployment is high (see earlier post about reduced attendance to 2011’s California Coastal Cleanup Day). However, the 3,600 volunteers that did come out to our twice-monthly community events found plenty of work, removing 5,500 pounds of trash from our beaches and counting the tiniest pieces for our data set.
As in previous years, single-use plastic dominated the removal effort – with volunteers counting 104,000 pieces of plastic pollution and then sending it to the recycle bin or the dumpster. Of that, about 50% were toxic plastic foam cigarette butts, which increased again last year despite a slight decrease in 2010. The rest of the plastics include plastic bags, bottle caps, plastic lids, cups, straws and plastic food wrappers – which interestingly were the highest in Coronado City Beach (perhaps from tourists?).
StyrofoamTM, AKA plastic foam, was surprisingly high at 25,000 pieces in 2010, but dropped back down to about 12,500 in 2011, similar to 2009 levels. This may be because of a decrease in foam, but after witnessing firsthand the Foam Frenzy in the Tijuana River Valley, I am convinced that volunteers get frustrated and give up on counting every piece of foam when each team collects hundreds or even thousands in a cleanup. Coastkeeper is working with restaurants to reduce sources of StyrofoamTM waste, and in 2011 succeeded in working with the City of San Diego to ban purchases of StyrofoamTM and plastic water bottles with government funds.
All this trash does not originate from beach visitors and residents. As was discussed in Spring 2011’s Signs of the Tide event, there is a Great Trash Migration during every major storm which brings plastics and litter from gutters, messy dumpsters, and transient camps in San Diego’s canyons straight to our bay and award winning beaches. Thanks to our dedicated volunteers, this trash migration may change over time, and our data will help track that.
Along with the data report, Coastkeeper and Surfrider are also announcing the full 2012 schedule, which will again rotate locations of popular beaches throughout the county and are open to all volunteers. Thanks to everyone who supported this effort – and we’ll see you on the beach!
San Diego Coastkeeper Education and Marine Debris Manager Alicia Glassco caught up with her friend, Miriam Goldstein, chief scientist on the Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX) and PhD student at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, to get the latest scientific information on marine debris in the North Pacific Gyre. Coastkeeper works closely with scientists to ensure that we are up to date with the best available science in order to educate and inform the public, policy decision makers and industries.
There has been lots of media attention around the “Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch,” but there is currently little scientific information about the composition, extent and effects of marine debris. With a desire to find answers to these questions, the SEAPLEX voyage ventured out into the North Pacific Ocean Gyre to gain further insight on the plastics problem.
Alicia: Good morning! It was great to see you at the 5th International Marine Debris Conference! Are you working on publishing some of your research this year?
Miriam: Yes, I am working on publishing our research. In fact, the first paper from SEAPLEX came out in the Marine Ecology Progress Series last June. It’s by Pete Davison and Rebecca Asch and its on fish ingestion of plastic particles.
Alicia: Great! Sounds like you are making great progress – this paper should complement the publication from Algalita last year. It’s important to get different perspectives and new data sets on topics like these many of our members and volunteers are concerned about plastic entering the food chain.
Miriam: Absolutely – we all care about our oceans and need as much as information as possible to figure out solutions.
I should note that Pete and Rebecca’s paper looked at plastic found in fish stomachs not at toxins. Their results found evidence of plastic waste in more than 9 percent of stomachs of fish. Based on this rate of ingestion, they estimated that fish in the intermediate ocean depths of the North Pacific ingest plastic at a rate of roughly 12,000 to 24,000 tons per year.
Alicia: Wow, that’s incredible! It must have been hard work to trying to figure that out. One of the reasons Coastkeeper is working so hard to reduce plastic pollution is because those smaller pieces that seem to “disappear” are not gone forever. I know at your SEAPLEX cruise you found a lot of these little flecks thousands of miles off shore. Did you calculate a density of plastic for the area of the North Pacific Gyre?
Miriam: We found that density in the North Pacific Central Gyre varies a LOT. There can be 10 times more plastic in one area than in a similar area just a few miles away. This is probably because of oceanographic forces like the wind mixing the upper part of the ocean or small currents bringing particles together in certain places.
Alicia: Commenting on fish eating plastic: Did you ever see that Colbert Report interview with Charles Moore? Colbert said “Well, if plastic lasts forever, and you are what you eat, and the fish are eating plastic, does that mean they’re going to live forever?”
Miriam: Hahaha. Yes I did see that. To be all serious and boring, the fish that are eating plastic (lanternfish, called myctophids by scientists) don’t live very long naturally. It’s hard to be a tasty little fish in the great big ocean.
Alicia: Physical oceanography rules the oceans! I think its great that so many disciplines are coming together to address the issue of marine debris. I also appreciate all you’re doing to help Coastkeeper with making sure our science information is on track. Coastkeeper works hard to communicate our local issues and how San Diego contributes to the problem of marine debris (and how our trash is carried to far away ocean places). Many types of data contribute to that communication, including your research and notes. Thanks so much for your input!
Miriam: I think what Coastkeeper does is so important – thanks for letting me get involved!
Alicia: Good luck on your next cruise. Looking forward to following your blog!
Did you know that volunteers at Coastkeeper’s beach cleanups are collecting important information to help scientists track the impacts of the Japan tsunami?
In mid-October, the International Pacific Research Center (IPRC) released that a Russian ship, the Pallada, found tsunami debris after passing the Midway Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The tsunami debris made up of wooden boards, plastic bottles, buoys from fishing nets, boots, etc., comes from the tragic tsunami that struck Japan this March. The Pallada also picked up a Japanese fishing boat that had markings indicating that the boat was from the FukushimaPrefecture, the area hardest hit by the tsunami. The Japanese Ministry of the Environment has estimated that there is a total of 25 million tons of disaster waste. Despite this high number, not all the disaster debris will end up becoming tsunami debris as some of the waste has already been disposed of, or managed on land.
The IPRC has been working to model the tsunami debris and predicts that the debris will hit the Northern Hawaiian Islands Marine National Monument in a year. Within the following two years, the rest of the Hawaiian Islands may see some effects, and in three years, the debris may reach the west coast. The model predicts Oregon as an epicentre of accumluation, and its expected that San Diego will see minimal impacts on our shores. Floating marine debris will then move towards the North Pacific Gyre, where it will circulate and break down into smaller and smaller pieces. It is also predicted that in five years, the tsunami debris will make its way back to the Hawaii’s reef and beaches for a second round of accumulation. More information can be found on the NOAA marine debris website.
The tsunami debris that the Pallada encountered helps scientists at the IPRC make more accurate projections about the future course of the debris. San Diego Coastkeeper’s beach cleanup data will help track potential accumulation or increases in debris on beaches and our team will report any increases or interesting finds. While we are unsure about how much, where and when the tsunami debris will hit, rest assured that our volunteers are doing their part through prevention, removal and data collection.
Ever wonder about that fresh and clean “just after it rains” feeling?
It seems to feel the most refreshing after the first big rainstorm of the year, when months of accumulated dust particles and leaves are washed away from paved surfaces to the vast underground network of storm drains.
San Diego’s rainfall patterns are such that we typically go about five months without a major rain storm, so as you can imagine there is quite a layer formed on our roofs, streets, and in stagnant pools near storm drains. Unfortunately, the bacteria, trash, and other pollutants carried with the rain water are at high enough levels that we can’t even swim, surf or play in the water for three days after the storm. Welcome to the first flush.
To stormwater monitorers, “major” is anything that registers over one quarter of an inch of rain. That one quarter of an inch is just enough to really get trash moving, to raise the plastics, cigarette butts, food wrappers, Styrofoam, and soccer balls from their temporary resting places and transport them a little closer to their final resting place in the bay or ocean. It’s marine debris in the making. And as Travis describes in his blog post, it’s coastal pollution and beach closures in the making as well.
After the flush, a short field trip to the beach, bayfront or your neighborhood creek will give a glimpse of how much trash is loose in our environment, and how much gets transported to our world’s ocean and potentially the Pacific Gyre with each storm.
But what can we do to prevent this flush from being so impactful? I have a few ideas:
- Don’t litter, intentionally or unintentionally. This is a no-brainer for most of us. But it also includes every little piece of wrapper and cigarette butt. Pack it in, pack it out.
- Participate in cleanup events each fall. Coastal Cleanup Day in September, and Tijuana River Action Month through October, are important efforts which span the period between summer tourist season, bird nesting season and the first rain.
- Organize your own cleanup in your neighborhood streets and canyons. Coastkeeper’s Cleanup in a Box Program helps you do just that and gets us important data to aid marine debris reduction advocacy efforts.
- Help with Coastkeeper’s plastic foam outreach to restaurants to get less take out Styrofoam in our waterways. Always sign petitions and action alerts for better policy.
There is a very short window of time each year in which dedicated volunteers can attempt to tackle the insurmountable accumulation of trash and debris in the Tijuana River near Imperial Beach. It starts in September when nesting season ends for threatened birds such as the Least Bell’s Vireo and the Light-footed clapper rail, and culminates with the start of the rainy season (typically, late October) when storms make the riverbed too muddy and polluted for volunteers to enter. Various environmental groups have partnered to create activities during Tijuana River Action Month (TRAM), involving thousands of volunteers in native planting events, lectures, workshops and cleanups over just five weekends.
For our contribution to the 2nd Annual Tijuana River Action Month, San Diego Coastkeeper teamed up with cleanup sponsor 101.1 KGB and TRAM coordinators of WiLDCOAST to continue focused cleanup of an accessible reach of the riverbank east of the bridge on Dairy Mart Rd. As a seasoned veteran of cleanups in San Diego beaches, parks, canyons, and rivers, I have coordinated volunteers removing literally tons of trash in one morning from highly impacted areas in Chollas Creek, the San Diego River and post-4th of July celebrations in marshmallow-ridden Ocean Beach. Yet I have seen nothing as shocking as the accumulation of plastic foam and plastics in the Tijuana River Valley.
In San Diego County, the Tijuana River is by far the most polluted and troubling waterway for environmental professionals to try to address. The overarching challenge is that the Tijuana River Watershed is shared by two countries with vastly different policies protecting water quality. For example, Mexico has no bottle bill to encourage recycling of plastic bottles like we have in California; and limited organized trash collection (let alone recycling) from remote shanty neighborhoods, often situated on steep hillsides leading directly to tributaries of the river. And although some infrastructure exists to help reduce the pollutant loads entering the beautiful Tijuana River National Estuarine Reserve, large storm systems bring thousands of gallons of sewage, toxins and trash downstream.
About 70 volunteers at the October 15 cleanup started where volunteers the week before had left off and still managed to collect 1,340 lbs of debris. But ask any one of the volunteers how they spent their morning and its likely that their response will include the word Styrofoam. This river has layer upon layer of debris buried from different storms and sediment layers. We only approached the top layer – and even with an army of 200 people would not have collected every piece of foam from that 1.5 acre area.
There were all types of foam. Styrofoam cups and plates, packaging material and lots of that hard brown foam from inside of mattresses and cushions. It was hard to decide whether to go for larger pieces or smaller pieces and there was not enough time or hands to hardly make a dent in what was out there. We used buckets, trash cans and wheelbarrows to avoid using plastic bags – and the entire cleanup was zero waste. We did our part to reduce our plastic footprint – but what about all the people upstream? What will it take to spread the word about the environmental injustice and flow of plastic pollution from human hands to the sea?
It seems all we can do is lead the way. Improving our daily consumption habits and encouraging others to go green will keep the movement going forward. Volunteers will continue to turn out in droves to help remove this toxic plastic from sensitive riparian habitat. And Coastkeeper is beginning an outreach campaign to San Diego restaurants for support of plastic foam reduction policies. Larger, more sweeping policies for trash reduction may encourage elected officials and agencies to prioritize funding for trash capture devices, rather than relying on scattered volunteer efforts and allowing the downstream transport and burial of this material in our waterways.
“To myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”
– Sir Isaac Newton
As any beach-goer knows, plastic foam (commonly known as Styrofoam) pollution is a huge problem on San Diego beaches. It is the third most common form of litter found in Coastkeeper’s beach clean-ups, and its prevalence is continuing to grow. The number of foam pieces has increased from 12,000 pieces in 2009, to 25,000 pieces in 2010. Immediate action is necessary to put a stop to the problem of plastic foam pollution.
Putting an end to plastic foam pollution was the goal of SB 568, which reached the state Assembly in mid-August 2011. The bill would phase out the use of plastic foam packaging for food vendors by 2016. SB 568 received significant opposition from restaurant owners and managers, who feared that making the switch from foam to a more sustainable option would affect their business’ financial stability. However, there are many similarly priced alternatives available and customers often appreciate sustainable options. In fact, many cities and municipalities all over California have already banned plastic foam with little to no impact on businesses. Unfortunately, opposition to SB 568 has caused the bill to be put on hold until further notice.
Although SB 568 has been set aside for now, many environmental groups are hard at work to generate support for future efforts to reduce plastic foam litter. At San Diego Coastkeeper, we are conducting outreach to San Diego food vendors, entreating them to switch away from plastic foam and to voice their support for alternative packaging. Help encourage your favorite restaurants to switch from plastic foam by requesting a sustainable alternative to plastic foam packaging, or contact me to learn how you can help.
Totals have finally trickled in for Coastal Cleanup Day 2011 and things are not looking optimistic for our final numbers. Although we had 7,608 volunteers which cleaned up over 145,000 pounds of trash (that’s 19/lbs per person!) these were much lower numbers than previous year’s. We are still contemplating all the reasons why we had a reduced amount of volunteers than in the past. Was it the unfortunate cloudy weather? Do we need to improve our outreach? Or are people just less likely to volunteer in the economic recession?
There are many differing opinions out there on the World Wide Web as to whether or not volunteerism is in decline. Data from differing countries shows conflicting answers to this issue. Such as the UK, where their Annual Citizenship Survey revealed the lowest levels of volunteerism in 10 years. But in contrast, the 2010 Volunteering in America report showed we had the largest increase in volunteering since 2003. It seems that there are a number of different economic and community factors that come into consideration when volunteering time such as home ownership, high school education and unemployment, to name a few.
One point of interest the Volunteering in America report showed was a direct correlation between the unemployment rate and volunteerism. Since California currently has the second highest unemployment rate in the US, this could be to blame for our declining volunteer numbers in California and San Diego County. Although this is a huge factor, Coastal Cleanup Day was still an enormous success and we were able to reach more cleanup sites than ever before!
Thank you to all the volunteers at this year’s event and we greatly appreciate your donated time and feedback. As we are constantly trying to progress and advance each year, what are some suggestions you have to improve Coastal Cleanup Day?
As my first year helping coordinate Coastal Cleanup Day, I have heard a lot of stories about some of the interesting items found during the cleanup. In previous years they have found everything from a port-a-potty to a fencing sword, so I was looking forward to what ‘memorabilia’ this day brought.
Here is a list of some of the most noteworthy:
- Beach Umbrella- Oceanside Harbor
- Bag of Marijuana- Swamis Beach
- Cross bow- University Channel, La Mesa
- Drum set- Otay Valley Regional Park
- Hindu figure- San Elijo State Beach
- Two headless statues- La Jolla Shores
- Dentures- Santa Clara Point, Mission Bay
- Pepper spray- Dixon Lake, Escondido
- Waterbed- Manzanita Canyon, City Heights
- Military badge- Belmont Park
- Hood of car- Carmel Mountain Preserve
- Set of retainers- Lake Wolford
- Pregnancy kit- Dog Beach, Ocean Beach
- Spare ribs (initially thought to be human)- Carlsbad State Beach
- 1971 ID card- Border Field State Park
- Telephone pole- Buena Creek, Vista
- Mr. Potato Head- Eugene Canyon, Normal Heights
- And ironically, The Complete Guide to Environmental Careers- Maple Canyon, Park West
What were some items you found interesting at Coastal Cleanup Day this year?
It’s no secret that people want to help protect the environment. San Diego County Supervisor Pam Slater-Price said there’s no other issue that can unite differing politics than the protection of it. Yet, it seems, one of the biggest secrets about the environment is the public’s education to it.
As a reporter, I was sent to cover Coastal Cleanup Day, San Diego’s largest volunteering effort to pick up trash along the beaches and watersheds throughout the county Sept. 17. I had heard of events like this one over my years growing up in San Diego, but like many, I knew nothing about the event or how much maintenance these areas actually needed, or how much trash there really was to pick up.
At the San Dieguito Lagoon wetlands restoration site in Del Mar, more than 100 volunteers came out with the intent of spending the day doing something good for the environment and getting their “yard-work fix.”
Many of the volunteers I spoke with saw this as a great opportunity to help “beautify” their neighborhood. Some of the younger volunteers like 12-year-old Anna Szymanski knew that the environment was hurting and she wanted to help give back by planting native species at the wetlands site.
Since the wetlands restoration project began in 2006, 150 acres of wetlands have been restored. The project was instated with the hopes that it would offset any impact the ocean-water cooling system of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating station in San Clemente, approximately 40 miles to the north, would have on fish populations. The station’s ocean-water cooling system pumps in ocean water through a series of pipes and uses it to cool and condense steam, which then pushes the turbines to generate electricity.
Back at the lagoon, San Dieguito Park Rangers helped educate volunteers on identifying invasive species for removal from around the trails. With only six rangers to monitor over 150 miles of trail that ranges from the mountains to the coast, volunteer efforts like this one are a tremendous help in maintaining these areas, explained Park Ranger Natalie Borchardt.
Just two hours in to the event, volunteers had already removed more than 700 pounds of green waste. In what would have taken Borchardt a week to do on her own, took volunteers no time at all to get the trails in order.
Coastal Cleanup Day may only be one day a year, but as I’ve learned since then, volunteer work is happening every weekend in nearly every ecological system in the county. The Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation, for instance, hosts volunteer trail maintenance every Saturday; they’ve also recently hosted the 6th annual Kayak Cleanup Event, which gives volunteers a rare opportunity to kayak in the Batiquitos Lagoon Preserve while picking up trash along the shoreline. They also offer visitors a chance to learn all about the lagoon and the role it plays in the environment at their nearby Nature Center.
It is a complex world that we live in and distractions abound, but if we really wanted to help protect the environment, we’d first learn all we could about it.
Tony Cagala is an assistant editor/reporter for The Coast News and The Rancho Santa Fe News. Read his full story on Coastal Cleanup Day here.
When finding out how much trash we collect in just one day during Coastal Cleanup Day, it’s hard to brush it off. The enormity of the number gets me to think of one negative and one positive thing. On a bad note, we are trashing our environment and we keep trashing it. On a good note, we are all responsible for this trash, which means we can stop the cycle. Did you know that some estimates say 80 percent of ocean pollution comes from on land, i.e. from us?
And Coastal Cleanup Day makes a statement. This large, county wide event has so many angles to it, including the hundreds of thousands of pounds of trash that we anticipate to collect on Sept. 17. The event gives us a chance to be aware of our impact on the environment and how our pollution habits cost us the health and beauty of our ocean.
But how do we help our community see this as more than just a “beach cleanup?” It all comes down to communications. And I’ve had the honor of working on public relations for this event over the past few months.
For the last month, we’ve been calling numerous newspapers and TV stations to get the awareness ball rolling and help recruit more volunteers to join us on Sept. 17. And our partner, I Love A Clean San Diego, has been working with AdClub San Diego and its members to advertise the event and develop these media pieces for the event.
We are also grateful to get so many stories, TV segments and mentions for this year’s event.
As environmentally conscious individuals, you are the biggest support we have. We want to work together with YOU. That’s why we are excited that on Saturday, San Diego Union-Tribune wants you to share pictures of you and your junk from the event. Please show you are interested and that you care by posting your photos on how you fight trash. We want your voices heard as they are the loudest.
Campaigns like this one prove to me how vital public relations and marketing is for giving a voice of reason for community events like Coastal Cleanup Day. And, personally, I feel fortunate to be a PR person for this rewarding event.
By increasing awareness, we want to decrease trash. The goal in the end is to take proactive steps, instead of reactive. That should be the goal, right?
Until Saturday then! I want to see my “pollution fighters” soon, so don’t forget to register.